Building Friction (Part 35)

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Sitting nervously in the cool air-conditioned office of the Webber & Nelson Publishing Company, I felt as if I were going to vomit. I chewed on my gum, trying not to chomp at it like an empty headed cow, and shifted my eyes from the clock on the wall, to my sensible shoes to the secretary Monique who didn't seem to register my presence. I'd been waiting only ten minutes, but I was ready to give up the ghost and bolt.

Just then, the intercom on Monique's desk buzzed and she was motioning me toward her desk. "Mr. Nelson will see you now," she informed me.

Randolph Nelson's office was painted a rich moss green, with a huge cherry wood desk sitting at its center. The bookshelves lining the walls were of the same wood, and filled with hard covers. I recognized some of the authors' names even with the brief flicker my eyes were able to land on them.

"Hello!" The voice projecting from the short man behind the desk belied his appearance. Randolph Nelson was as wide as he was short, with ruddy cheeks and bright round eyes. His fingers looked like overstuffed sausages as they wiggled at me, beckoning a handshake. Gripping his hand was like squeezing into warm Play-doh. His smile was welcoming. He was wearing a striped shirt, undone at the top two buttons and sans tie. He seemed to struggle as he sat down.

"Well, Miss Chloe," he started, motioning for me to sit down. "I have had the pleasure of reading some of your stuff and I believe that you have yourself a treasure trove of talent in you." I sat quietly, entranced by the little pink marshmallow hands of his, now laced together at the fingers and sitting in a pile on the ledger in front of him. "I know your work is mostly exposes of yourself, but why don't you give me the personalized run-down of yourself?"

I cleared my throat. "Well, I'm 27. I substitute teach when I'm not writing. I..." My voice seemed stuck in my chest. "I'm sorry. What exactly were you hoping to learn about me?"

Nelson laughed loudly, his voice booming off of the walls. "You should be able to answer that. Although, considering how much you put down on virtual paper, I can understand why you might be tapped out for words on occasion."

I shifted in my seat. "I've never been very good at talking about myself. Sure, I can write it, but that's because my writing gives me a form of control. Speaking is much harder to go back and edit."

Nelson laughed again. "Very true," he remarked. "Do you find yourself having trouble with that often?"

"Only lately, it seems like," I sighed.

His brow furrowed. "Personal woes?"

"Always." I said and managed a weak laugh. "As dramatic as my writing comes off, sometimes I fear I might not properly capture the reality of it."

"Well, doesn't that sound exciting!" Nelson's fat little hands unfolded and pressed flat to the desk. "You must elaborate on that for me."

I shook my head an gave him a pained smile. "Nothing of any great interest to anyone other than me and perhaps the other parties involved."

"Look, young lady," Nelson's tone had turned parental. "I've been married for 28 years. I might not be ancient quite yet, but I sure as hell feel out of the loop most of the time. Why do you think I greenlight so many novels by young women such as yourself? You are my portal to recapturing my own lost youth. Now start talking."

I exhaled sharply and then gave a sigh of relent. "I started dating a very nice young man. Things were progressing a little slower than I had hoped. Well, to be more specific, just slower than what I was used to. But there was this other man that I met prior to him. Problem was that we didn't exactly get off on the right foot in the beginning. So while there was an attraction there, I didn't want to act on it."

"Well, this sounds like a fairly typical love triangle," Nelson remarked.

My heart sank. I was actually talking about my personal life at a meeting to talk about my writing and the boring predictability of it all was going to cost me my chance at getting published. It didn't feel very fair. I went to stand.

"Where do you think you're going?" Nelson asked, freezing me in place.

"Oh, I thought... that is, I thought..." I struggled to grab verbal ground.

"Oh, don't think. Not thinking things through is how most of the great innovators made their life-altering discoveries. If you think things through too much, you overshoot the surprising possibilities that you never could have predicted were right in front of you." He smiled broadly at me. "The fact is, I'd decided long before you got here that I was going to offer you an opportunity to write for us. You have an appealing style. That alone sold me."

My heart went from feeling like a weighted stone in my chest to the rapid fluttering of a hummingbird's wings. "Really?" I asked, disbelieving.

"Really," Nelson confirmed. He continued to smile at me. "Chloe, do you happen to have anything substantial written in your library, or is everything written in article form for the website?"

"I've been working on a story. Well, I guess it's kind of a book. It was something that I started the other day based on what was going on in my life," I stammered. My breathing was fast and shallow. My head felt light.

"How soon do you think you could have something like that finished?" he asked.

"I honestly don't know," I answered.

"Well, I'm going to need a rough draft as soon as you can get one to me. I've been in discussion with the website that you work for, and I'm in the process of buying the rights to all of the work that you've done for them. It means that your pieces will be pulled off of the site," he advised, his tone serious. "But it also means that you're going to have a tangible product in your hands by the end of the year. How does that sound?"

I was on the verge of tears. My work. My writing. In print. For sale. The idea astounded me. "It sounds great," I slowly eked out.

"I certainly hope it does!" Nelson boomed. "I have another meeting coming in shortly, Miss Chloe, so I am going to have to bid you farewell for now. Monique has some paperwork to give you. I advise that you take it to a lawyer and have it looked over. Don't just assume that because I look trustworthy, that I actually am." He smiled and extended his sausage fingers to me again. "It really was a pleasure meeting you."

"It was a pleasure meeting you as well," I echoed. I'd barely said anything, and what I had said sounded like a high school kid whining to their guidance counselor. I couldn't believe that this man was ready to sign me on to his publishing company. I kept expecting to hear my alarm clock go off and signal the end of my dream.

I bid Nelson farewell and went to gather up my contract papers that Monique the secretary was holding for me. She smiled curtly at me, handed me a huge envelope and then returned her attention to the computer screen in front of her. I was about to head for the elevator, when a thought struck me. I turned around and addressed Monique.

"If you don't mind me asking," I started slowly. She looked up at me with impassive eyes. "And I don't know if you even know, but I was just curious. Do you have any idea who recommended me to your boss?"

Monique shot me a tight-lipped smile. "The party wished to remain anonymous," she replied in a clipped tone. "I'm sorry, but I would be unable to give you that information."

"Oh," I said softly. "OK. Well, have a nice day."

I went to the elevator and climbed in when the doors slid open. The cheerful Muzak trickled down from the overhead speakers. My mind could only focus on the one question.

Who the hell HAD recommended me? And why would they want to remain anonymous?


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"Where the FUCK have you been?" Steph was waiting for me at the door, hand on hip, tone furious. I'd called her as I was driving out of the parking garage of the Webber & Nelson building and said that I was on my way over.

"Dealing with shit," I answered lightly. "Steph?"

"No, no 'Steph.' Steph only wants to know what's been going on and why you haven't been answering anyone's phone calls. Steph only cares right now about why you pulled an emotional groundhog." She was fuming. The last time that I'd seen her so pissed was when she'd caught a boyfriend cheating on her. As far as I knew, his car was STILL at the body shop.

"Fine. In a nutshell? Matt will soon be no more, once I figure out how to tell him that it's over." I said it quickly, looked her directly in the eyes and waited for the firestorm.

"Was that really so hard? That was all you needed to tell me. Just give me some idea," Steph moved from the doorway and allowed me into the house. We walked straight into the backyard and plopped down into the patio chairs. The house was oddly still.

"Where is everyone?" I asked. Steph was busy lighting a cigarette.

"Sean's gig," she said after her long drag. "I was going to go too, but stuck around when you called. They're getting some dinner and then heading over to the Good Bar after. Sean's really getting upset with you. This is like the third show that you've missed."

"That's not possible, is it? Hell, I was the only one that showed up to that other one." I racked my brain. Sean played a lot during the week so it was easy to lose track of all of the places and dates.

"The finite details are not important. I get weirded out when I don't hear from you. I start thinking that something bad happened." Steph settled back in her chair.

"But why?" I asked. "It's not like I can't take care of myself."

"You don't act like it most of the time. When you suddenly stop begging for advice I start to think that something is seriously amiss. That, or you're dead. You're always telling us what's going on with you. Hell, there hasn't even been mention of anything in your articles. And I've been scanning for your little cryptic meanings." Steph yawned.

"Most of what has gotten posted recently has been written in advance, before this went down." I lit a cigarette of my own.

"So what exactly DID go down?" Steph asked.

"Matt and I fucked, you know that far. Well, I came over here Saturday. I didn't really talk to him after I left his house in the morning because he had to work. Well, Sunday morning I call him and drop the hints, you know?"

"That he was welcome to a second helping, yeah." Steph agreed.

"Yeah. Well, he sounded weird. Started with an uncomfortable laugh, moved into how he really had this shit that he had to help his mother do..."

"Uh oh." Steph leaned forward and rested her chin in her hand.

"Uh oh, indeed. So I got pissy. Then I messaged Geoff."

"Oh, Chloe..." Steph's voice turned to disapproval.

"Shut up. It turned out much better than I thought it would. I'm clearer now. I know I can't stay with Matt. Unfortunately, I also realize that I never should have taken up with Matt in the first place," I sighed.

"Why is that?"

"Because it was all about settling. It was about taking what was in front of me instead of searching out what I really needed. I have an incredibly bad habit of doing that. Why shouldn't I hold out for someone that suits me better? Why do I always think: 'Well, he's good enough.'? It's wrong." I bent over at the waist and hugged my knees with one arm.

"You didn't mean to hurt Matt. But hey, what if it was taking what was in front of you, the 'wrong' choice, as you put it, that lead you to seeing now what you really want?" Steph's tone was encouraging.

"Yeah, I suppose you could look at it that way," I conceded.

"So, what you want is Geoff, right? Is that what you found out?"

I thought about it for a second. Geoff was course and crude, but honest and straight forward. The hand that he held might beat mine on more than one occasion, but at least he put all of his cards out on the table. I liked that.

"Yeah," I said slowly. "Geoff is what I want."

"Don't you mean 'who'?" Steph asked.

"Well, what AND who, really. Wanna hear something weird?" I snubbed out my cigarette and threw the butt in the patio fireplace.

"What's that?"

"The sex with Matt was stellar. I came more times than I could count on my fingers and my toes combined. But it was so technical. As if he'd made a mental agenda with a goal tacked at the end and was focused on achieving that. Was it good? Fuck yeah. But it retrospect it was lacking something," I sighed.

"Passion." Steph filled in.

"Yeah. I wanted the sex. I just didn't want it for the right reasons."

"But with Geoff?" She lifted a brow at me.

"I would fuck that man sideways if it were physically possible," I said, then burst into laughter. Steph joined me. We continued on for a few minutes, then regained out composure and went to light more smokes.

"So, your meeting with that publisher guy, how did that go? Not like it's even half as exciting as all of this guy stuff," she said the last part with a deep coating of sarcasm.

"He's going to publish my web articles in a book. He's buying the rights to them from the site," I sighed and looked up at the sky. It was still so bright out. Summer was on its way.

"Chloe! That's fucking fantastic!" Steph yelled.

"Yeah. And he wants to see the manuscript for the book I've been working on," I added.

Her eyes grew wide. "I didn't know that you were working on a book!"

"It's recent," I said.

"There's a lot of shit that's been recent with you lately," she returned in a clipped tone.

"Ain't that the fucking truth," I said. "I'm afraid of what lies ahead, to be honest."

"Fuck it. You're tough. No matter what it is, you'll survive." Steph offered a reassuring smile.

"I'm not going to argue. Not because I agree with you, but because I don't want to think of the alternative." I sank back in my chair and kept my eyes on the sky.

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