I must’ve fallen asleep. I could hear the faint sounds of Mr. Lakay’s music floating into the apartment. He worked nights and always played music from classic Broadway musicals when he got home. That means it's morning. Reluctantly, I open my eyes. The apartment is quiet. All I hear is the slight humming coming from my ancient laptop. Groaning, I check to see what I did. Nothing. Just a blank page with Chapter one typed in some random font. Great. Another wasted night. I sit up in my chair and stretch, slowly waking up. I can smell butterscotch and coffee. I look around and notice that the kitchen and living room are cleaned and the curtains are opened. I look to the bedroom and the door is opened. I get up, listen to my bones cracking into place, and head over to the kitchen. The coffee is still warm in the pot and there is a note on the fridge.
You’re Late. Get going. Jo knows you will be late. I love you- M xoxoxo
I check the time and realize she is right. I quickly shut my laptop and shove it into my backpack. While the shower is running, I quickly go to check my emails on my phone. Nothing. I notice that Marley has left some clothes on the bed for me. Damn, she thinks of everything. I am dressed and ready in 15minutes. I give the apartment a once over to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything and quickly head out. The roads are still busy. Everyone leaving for the city. We were lucky to even find this place.
Marley and I met during our first year at college. Naturally, me being the biggest dork, I kind of put myself in the friend zone but I didn’t care. She was dazzling to me so I didn’t mind being close to her in any way I could be. She was studying IT and I, despite my parent’s warning of post-grad employment, studied Literature. I always knew I wanted to be a writer from the moment I read my first book. Marley was different. She was great at IT. It was the family business. Her father owned a large IT firm and she was set to work in his think- tank when she graduated but in our final year, Marley became unsure. She questioned her passion for IT after we had come back from a holiday break. She had gone to France with her family and said she had gained new insight. She dropped out, a few credits short of graduating. I stood by her side of the course. When I graduated, she came to see me walk and I decided to tell her how I felt. She laughed and said ‘It’s about damn time you told me.’
We have been inseparable since. She followed her heart and enrolled in a pastry chef course. She would always bake treats for our study sessions but she claims a tiny pastry shop in France changed her life. She now works at a high-end bakery in our coastal suburb. Naturally, her father didn’t agree with it, so she proved herself. Together we looked for a place where she could bake and I could write. As if to prove my parents right, I struggled at first to get a job. Turns out knowing a lot about literature doesn’t gain your employable skills. I was lucky when I found work at a book store nearby. The pay was good and I got to surround myself with books. We moved into an apartment that was right in the center of our work commutes.
I pass by the jewelry store on my way to work and there is this beautiful emerald ring in the corner display. Every morning I walk past and look at it thinking how amazing it would be for Marley. She says she is fine with us where we are but I’m sure she wants to get married and start a family. Sighing, I walk on. Not right now. I can't give her what I would like to just yet.
There are a few people outside the store when I walk up to the door. The closed sign is up so I unlock and head inside.
“About damn time, Bro. Seriously, I thought you were bailing on me today of all days.” Jo, my best friend, and co-worker is carrying a large box in from the storeroom.
“Sorry man, late night. What’s so special about today again?” I get behind the counter, start up the coffee machines, and get my flash drive into the music center.
“The new Graham Pulse novel just came in. We are going to get swamped today.” Jo points to the now small crowd forming outside.
“Shit, sorry I spaced it. Here, let me set it out, you let them in so long. Let's push coffee and cake stuff while I set up.” I take the box from Jo and head to the display. As I set out the first book in the window, a girl outside taps the window and mouths ‘Mine’. I nod and she turns to leave. I make a note to leave one book in the back for her.
As soon as the doors open, the crowd comes flooding in. I unpack as fast as I can. Before long, the box is empty and I have to start on the next one for our display. The mania finally dies down around noon. Jo and I decide to lock up and go get lunch. We are sitting outside of the burger grill house when we see a new line forming outside the book store.
“I’m telling you, Andy. VOX should pay us commission for having to deal with their crazy readers.” Jo puffs away on his vape while shaking his head at the fevered fans waiting in line.
“One woman began quoting the book to me. Something about injustice and vengeance. I swear all that was missing was a cape and a mask.” I light up a cigarette as Jo howls with laughter.
When we first moved to the coastal city, I heard of a writer's circle and decided to join. That’s where I met Jo. He is the definition of ‘Hipster’. He wore vests and cardigans. His beard was as unruly as the hair he keeps tucked under a beanie and he guzzles organic green tea and artisan coffee. I never thought we would hit it off but he turned out to be a pretty good guy. Even offered me a job at the book store he manages because he said he knew a broke artist when he saw one. We spent any free time we had writing and bouncing ideas off each other. I would never tell him, for fear that he wouldn’t let it go, but he was the closest thing I had to a family down here.
The day was long and we found ourselves having to turn the last of our customers away after we ran out of stock to avoid the angry mob, we closed early. I headed home and decided to treat Marley to dinner. She usually gets home before me so dinner is her domain but I knew she would like a break. I was just about ready to serve up the pesto pasta I had made when she came in. she flopped down on the sofa, still in her flour-splattered uniform. I poured her a glass of pinot grigio and sat down next to her. She looked me over, realizing that I was home, and smiled, kicking off her shoes. She crawls onto my lap and kisses my cheek.
“Was work so bad?” I stroke her hair and cradle her as she nuzzles against me.
“I burnt two batches of cinnamon rolls and dropped a glass bowl. There was tiny glass everywhere. Today I just...” she buries her head in my neck.
“It was just a day. Don’t worry, Marls.” I lift her face to kiss her. She has been off lately and it sounds like it's getting to her.
We ate dinner in bed, watching reality TV to numb our brains. I will never understand the logic behind going on a dating show and trying to fall in love. We spend an hour debating whether or not the show is scripted ( just to be clear, it is). When I come back into the bedroom with hot chocolate, Marley has passed out. I tuck her in and just watch her for a bit. She is the prettiest girl I have ever seen. Creamy skin, hazel eyes that have the slightest hint of green in them. Copper hair that ripples like waves. She was a tiny thing compared to my long legs and arms. When she slept her mouth would pucker like an adorable baby. I decided to let her sleep so I went back to my desk. After I completed my first manuscript, I have been struggling to write anything. It's like I have hit a wall. It's been 2 months and still, no new ideas have come to me. I decided to check my emails. I nearly fall off my chair when I see the top email from VOX publishers.
Dear Mr. Andrew Willoby,
We have received your manuscript and would to express interest in you joining our company. Please call my assistant, Merida, to confirm your interview allotment time.
I look forward to meeting you and discussing your future with us.
C.E.O at VOX Publishers
I read the email again and again. This...could this be a joke? I quickly search the email address and it looks legit. I remember sending my manuscript to them nearly a year ago with no response. I print out the email and run to wake Marley.
“Baby! Marley! Wake up! Look!” I gently shake her awake. She groans and sits up. I hand her the email and she reads it grumbling the words until she stops short.
“Is this real? Oh my god! Is this real!” Marley jumps up, her face now red with excitement.
“Yeah, I think it is. I checked the email and it looks real. Baby, I think this means...” I stare at her.
“YOU’RE GETTING PUBLISHED!!!!!” Marley leaps for me, squealing like a deranged person. I am frozen for a moment. She notices and pulls back. “We are taking off tomorrow.” she hops off the bed and starts calling her boss and Jo.
For a moment I am frozen with fear. What if this is just a mistake. It took them this long to reach out. What if it's a rejection? What if...
“Stop that! Don’t doubt it, babe. Let us just call in the morning and see what happens. Don’t ruin your moment babe. This is huge. We need to get you an outfit. Oh and talk about strategy. I should call my dad’s PR queen, Sophie. She can give us advice...” Marley rambles on and on for what seems like an hour about what we have to do.
Marley stands, analyzing two shirts whilst the shop assistant watches thoughtfully. Marley nods and hands the girl a shirt and I watch as she tucks it under a suit.
“That’s the one. That’s perfect.” Marley claps her hands as the assistant smiles, nods, and leaves us.
“Isn’t this a bit much? I have a suit.” I slump back in the chair. Marley spins to me, holding up two ties.
“Sophie’s advice is never wrong. I like your suit but this is VOX. According to Sophie, they are unlike any company she has ever seen. They are publishing royalty. Sophie says we need you to walk in there like a man with options. If they smell desperation, they will lowball you.” Marley picks out some shoes and sets each pair under the suit.
“I can't afford designer suits, Marls. Look,” I hold up the jacket’s price tag, “This is my salary.”
“This is my treat remember.” Marley waves her black card at me.
“Your dad gave you that for emergencies and we have never needed to use it.” I hug my old denim jacket tighter.
“It's my money love. Pay me back when you’re a big-time author if that will make you feel better. Now try this one.” Marley pushes me into a dressing room and gets to work.
There are gasps from Marley and the shop assistant when I come out. I walk over to the full-length mirror and look myself over. The suit is midnight blue and fitted. The shirt is jet black with a skinny black tie and the shoes are matte black. Marley walks over and tucks one side of my chin-length hair behind my ear and smooths the other side down. She looks me over and blushes. The shop assistant comes closer and clips a silver slide onto my tie.
“Oh. My. God. YES! We’ll take it all.” Marley smiles at me. The shop assistant beams bright and gestures for me to undress so she can ring up the clothes. When I hand them to her she gives me a wink.
“You like it?” I slip my shoes back on as Marley stands watching me.
“Tonight, we are breaking that suit in.” Marley flings herself at me, her eyes twinkling. I knew what that meant.
The meeting was in 2 days. I was more nervous than ever. I look over at the suit, hanging by the closet. My whole life was about change. I couldn’t settle my nerves no matter how hard I tried. Beside me, Marley stirred and rolled over onto my chest. I stroked her bareback. She always hummed when I did that. Even in her sleep. If this meeting went well. The first thing I was doing is going to that jeweler's and buying that emerald ring for her.