“Hmm. I don’t necessarily agree. But if you want, we could breed you together and create the next-generation ultimate B and G employee. I’ve never heard you call him ‘Josh’ before.”
I pretend my mouth is incredibly full. I chew and point to my mouth and shake my head and buy myself twenty seconds of time. I hope the phone rings.
“Oh, well, you know. That’s . . . his name I guess. Joshua. Er, Josh Templeman. Joshua T.”
She munches, staring with avid interest at my face.
“You’ve got a rather eerie glow about you today, darling.”
“No I don’t.” She’s on to me. My messing around with Josh is catching up to me.
“You’re all confused and bunny-in-the-headlights. It’s these dates.”
“It’s all a bit confusing. Danny is nice. He really is.”
“All my favorite boyfriends when I was young weren’t particularly nice.”
There’s a bang on the door adjoining Mr. Bexley’s office to Helene’s. I’m deeply grateful to Fat Little Dick for this interruption.
“Enter,” she barks. He bursts in and stops dead when he sees me and the box of macarons on the desk.
“What do you want?”
“Never mind.” He lingers, eyes on the desk, until she heaves a sigh and holds the plate in his direction. He takes two, fingers hesitating on a third. I swear I see the faintest hint of amusement in her eyes when he walks back out and shuts the door without a word.
“Lord, could that man smell the sugar? I gave him some to encourage the diabetes, darling, no other reason.”
“What did he want?”
“He’s lonely without Josh. He’s going to have to get used to it.”
“When should we do a practice presentation?”
“No time like the present. Wow me, darling.”
After delivering my introduction, I can see I have her attention. “My presentation is to propose a new Backlist Digitalization project. I’ve taken a sample of the combined top one hundred books published by Gamin and also by Bexley in 1995, just as an example. Only about fifty-five percent are available in digital format.”
“iPads are a fad,” Mr. Bexley interjects from the open adjoining door, chewing. “Who would want to read off a sheet of glass?”
“The fact is, the largest growing market for e-readers are those over thirty,” I explain, trying to keep my cool. How long has he been standing there? How did he open the door so silently? I focus on Helene and try to ignore him.
“This is a huge opportunity, for all of us. It’s a chance to renew contracts with authors that have gone out of print. It’s growth within the company for people who have the skills to pull the content into ebook, the cover designers, and to get older B and G releases back onto best-seller lists. Publishing is constantly evolving, and we need to keep up.”
“Please leave,” Helene says over her shoulder to Mr. Bexley. The door closes, but I swear I can still see two shadows of his feet under the door.
The rising panic is now fully fledged. If he reveals my strategy to Josh, he could screw me. I click to my last slide.
“If I’m successful in winning this position, I would seek to create a formal project to get the deep backlist into ebook. I have created an initial budget, which I’ll get to in a few slides time. These ebooks will all need to be repackaged with new, updated covers. There will be costs involved with three new cover designers over the course of the two-year project.”
I click through my project proposal. Helene questions me on several points, and I can answer her questions and justify my requirements easily. Eventually, I’m at my last slide. Helene stares at the screen for so long I check to see if she’s blinking.
“Darling. Very, very good.”
I drop to kneel beside her chair. Tears are forming in her eyes and she takes the tissues from my hand, sighing like she feels silly.
“I’ve been selfish in keeping you out there,” she says quietly. “I just . . . I can’t do without you. But I see now how wrong I’ve been. I should have done more to get you into editorial after the merger. You were so upset too, about losing your friend.”
I can’t say anything. I don’t know what to say.
“But every time I started to think about recruiting for your job, I’d think about how good you are at it, how you basically keep this office running and keeping me sane. Then I’d say, maybe another month won’t hurt.”
“I only do my job,” I say, but she shakes her head.
“Another month. And another month. And it did hurt you, Lucy. You’ve had ambitions, and things you’ve wanted, and ideas, but I couldn’t bear to let you go.”
“So the presentation was okay?”
She laughs and wipes her eyes. “It is going to get you this promotion. And we are going to get B and G back into the game with this. Together. I want to be right beside you, working as colleagues. Mentoring you might be one of the best things I ever achieve in my career.”
She looks at the last presentation slide and pauses.
“I have to know, though. If there were no interviews, no new job, would this idea have stayed locked up inside you forever? Why keep this to yourself?”
I sit back on my heels and look at my hands. “Good question.”
How many other things has this promotion unlocked inside me?
“I thought you knew your ideas were important.” She’s starting to fret.
“I think maybe I was waiting for the timing to be right. Or I didn’t have confidence. Now I’m being forced to go with it. It’s a good thing, I think. Even if I don’t get the job, this whole thing has . . . woken me up.”
I think of last night, kissing Josh under a streetlight, and then remember.
“What if Mr. Bexley tells Josh about my presentation?”
“Let me deal with him. If he turns up dead in the river you’ll know to keep your mouth shut and provide me an alibi. Focus on next week. I do have a suggestion.”
“Great.” I take the USB and sit opposite her again. “Hit me.”
“It’s a little light in some places. Why not have an ebook ready for the presentation? Get something from the deep backlist catalog into e-format, and have a breakdown of how many man-hours it took, salary costs. The actual cost of creating it. It will prove your budget is right.”
“Yes, good idea.” I gulp my lukewarm coffee.
“You think numbers are Josh’s strength, yes? Here’s your chance to prove you’re every bit as capable of creating a baseline budget for this new project.”
I’m nodding and scribbling notes, my mind racing ahead.
“But to keep things fair, you can’t use company resources on this. Get creative. Use your contacts. Maybe someone who can freelance.” There’s no mistaking that she means Danny.
I jot down a few notes for myself as she turns off the projector.
“I’m going to get this,” I tell her with a new certainty.
“No doubt about it, darling.” Helene looks to the adjoining door, and I see her mouth start to quirk with mischief.
“Did you give some more thought to your recent battles with Josh? I have an interesting theory.” A little cackle escapes her.
“I’m not sure I’m ready to hear this.” I lean on her desk.
“It’s inappropriate but here goes. Josh thought you were lying about your date because he can’t imagine you with anyone but himself.”
“Oh. Um. Ah.” I try all vowel combinations. Heat is sweeping up my chest, up my throat, face, into the roots of my hair, until I am completely red.
“Think on that,” she says and pops another entire macaron in her mouth.
I open my mouth, hesitate, close it, then do it a few more times. She stands up and dusts off crumbs, looking at me shrewdly.
“I’ve got to run, I have the hot-water man coming at three. Why do they always come at the most inconvenient times? Go home too, darling. You look a bit like a fish.”
I sit at my desk after she leaves. The pathway is as clear as day. I should be on the phone to Danny to talk about him freelancing on my ebook, but every time I pick up the phone I put it down again. To keep things professional I dig out his business card and email him a meeting request for tomorrow. I have no idea what he charges but it’s all or nothing at this point.
I have a text. My stomach freefalls. My heart soars.
Joshua Templeman: Glad to hear it.
He got the roses then. I hug the phone to my chest.
This interview is the worst kind of limbo. So many people have wished me good luck in the hallways. Imagining their sympathetic awkwardness if I fail is unbearable.
If Josh gets this job, I have to walk away.
I look at the cross in my planner that symbolizes next week’s interview. As much as my mock presentation boosted my confidence, I also need to plan out the worst-case scenario. It’s good business planning to have an exit strategy. I’ve got some money saved in a sacred account that I never touch. I’d wanted to take a vacation this year, but I guess it’s going to be my safety net. Maybe I’d have to go and sit under the umbrella at the front gates of Sky Diamond Strawberries. My parents would probably hug and jump and scream in delight. They wouldn’t even have the decency to be disappointed in me.
If Josh gets this job, and I resign, will my bitterness outweigh those little flickers inside my chest when he looks at me? Could our weird, fragile little game survive outside these walls? My friendship with Val didn’t survive.
Could we see each other while I hear about his successes at B&G and I’m in the job queue? On the other hand, would he be happy for my success while he’s papering this city with his CV? His pride is something I can’t imagine he’d lay down lightly.
I’m not completely out of options. I’ve got some contacts at some smaller boutique publishers that I could possibly approach, but I’d feel disloyal to Helene. I could ask Helene for a transfer into another B&G team. Maybe it is time to start at the bottom of the editorial team. But if I remain at B&G, that would almost certainly mean that Josh was the new COO.