The alarm on her phone echoed in the bedroom for the fourth time that morning and all Nicole wanted to do was silence the annoying sound, snuggle further into her girlfriend’s embrace and sleep for the next twelve hours. But the thing kept on ringing, reminding her that that was not a regular morning. She couldn’t give herself the luxury of being late on the first day of her new editor-in-chief. Even if she had just spent half the night finishing up on a story.
According to the gossip going around the magazine’s corridors, the new boss was supposed to be strict and straight to the point – particularly with the women in her team. Not that Nicole was used to slacking on her work or anything; she just didn’t want to start things on the wrong foot with the woman who could determine so much about her future.
Hence why her alarm was blaring even earlier than usual.
One look behind her shoulder confirmed what Nicole already suspected to be true: Lauren was still sleeping as if nothing had disturbed the stillness of the room. She slept like the dead and Nicole had no idea how her girlfriend was never late to anything, but at least she never felt guilty when her alarm went off early in the morning.
The arms and legs around her body tightened their grip and tried to make her stay in bed, but Nicole had already stalled all that she could. With a regretful sigh, Nicole sat up, allowing herself a moment to admire Lauren’s simple beauty. She wasn’t one of those women you’d expect to find on a magazine cover or on a runway somewhere, but Nicole was sure that Lauren would be just as beautiful in her sixties as she was at that moment. She kissed the pale skin, right where a shoulder curved into a neck, and got up to start her day.
Since she had waited until the fourth programmed alarm – she had six of them – there was no time for coffee or breakfast. She hopped into the shower and waited until the water worked its magic and made her feel like she belonged into the world of the living once again. Nicole’s mornings had been like that since she could remember. She could skip anything but a shower if she wanted to be a productive human being throughout the rest of the day. And with the meeting she had in an hour, she really needed to be on top of her game.
The commute to the magazine was quick. When Nicole was looking for an apartment, she opted for the closest to work within her price range. There had been newer buildings and better neighborhoods further into San Francisco, but nothing could beat getting to and fro work in less than twenty minutes. Particularly after pulling an all-nighter.
The morning security guard greeted her from a distance and held the elevator doors so she wouldn’t have to wait for the next one. Inside, her lips formed a half smile when she noticed Jake leaning against the back wall. He was one of the magazine’s main photographers and after working together many times they became best friends. Nicole leaned sideways on the wall to his right and cleared her throat. She was sure he had his eyes closed behind the dark lenses he was wearing.
“Nic, hi.” He smiled at her and pushed the glasses to the top of his head. His eyes scanned her body up and down and he frowned when he focused back on her face. “Wow, you look like shit!”
“Gee, thank you so much, Jake. You really know how to make a girl feel good about herself. And good morning to you, too.”
“No need to hate the truth, hun. Because by your looks, the night must have been amazing.”
“Oh, you have no idea.” Nicole let her voice drop an octave when she noticed Jake’s interest in her story. It was just so much fun teasing him. “It was just me, a computer, a pot of coffee and pile of notes. All. Night. Long. It was…wild.”
The metal doors opened and Nicole stepped out on the magazine’s main floor. She knew Jake was right behind her and she knew what he was going to say next.
“Anyone ever tell you that you work too much?” Her friend was just so predictable.
“Yes. Lauren. Every day.”
“I knew I liked that girl for a reason. And she’s right, Nic. You need to relax.”
If anyone else had said those words to her, particularly Lauren, Nicole would probably have left them talking to themselves. She hated when people tried to interfere with the way she leads her career. But she knew Jake’s concern was genuine and maybe even a little necessary. Not that she would admit it to his face. The thing was, Nicole loved her work. She was focused and driven and knew what she wanted to achieve. If she needed to be a little sleep deprived every now and then, it was a price she was more than willing to pay.
“I am relaxed, Jake. I just had this little thing called a deadline. I’m not sure if you two have been introduced yet.”
“We have, but we’re not friends. Besides, deadlines are just things invented by people that don’t have to follow them.”
“They’re called our bosses. But I’m not gonna lose my breath on you. You’re incapable of being serious.”
Jake sounded offended, but Nicole ignored him when she crossed the glass doors and noticed that the room was practically empty. She looked at her watch and saw that they only had five minutes until the staff meeting started. She silently thanked herself for not giving in to her tired self that morning and dragged Jake to the conference room.
Most of the magazine’s team was already gathered in there, looking half-asleep and talking in small groups. Some were typing away on their phones and there was one guy with his forehead laid on the table in front of him. Nicole chuckled and made a straight line to the coffee station by the back wall. She couldn’t allow herself to fall asleep in the middle of this meeting. It felt like professional suicide or something very close to that.
She had just finished fixing her coffee when she heard the double doors being closed and the sound of chairs scratching the floor. Nicole turned around and found a redheaded woman standing by the opposite wall. She had seen pictures of her when she researched her new boss, but that hadn’t prepared her for the air of power and command the woman exuded. It was clear who was in charge.
Nicole took the chair Jake had saved her and waited for the meeting to start.
“Good morning, ladies and gentleman. My name is Dianna Lee and I’m the new editor-in-chief of the Variety magazine. As I’m sure most of you must have already researched my career, I’m not going to talk about my previous experiences. And if you didn’t, you should.”
Blue eyes took their time analyzing everyone in the room, one by one. They were calculating, but not cold. Nicole felt like Dianna was measuring them, trying to match their faces and postures to the names and articles she must have read. When those eyes fell on her, the reporter held the stare for the long seconds it lasted.
“Now, I have read the magazine’s past issues and you have done a good job so far. But I think it has the potential to be excellent.”
Before Dianna had the opportunity to continue, a knock on the door pulled everyone’s attention to a young woman that just joined them. Nicole hadn’t been introduced to her yet, but she felt sorry for the girl after seeing the way Dianna was staring at her.
“As I was saying, we have a lot of work to do, so let’s not waste any more time. I want you to pitch me what you have planned for the next issue.”
Dianna pointed to the man sitting on her right to start them off and each one of them told the new boss about their assignments and their completion statuses. For some, Dianna had questions. For others, she made small remarks. With most she remained impassive and only a few put a small smile on her face. When the time came for Nicole to pitch her story, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Nor what to hope for.
“I just finished yesterday the profile on Congressman John O’Connor. I just have to sit with Jake here to decide on the pictures.”
“Great.” Dianna smiled and Nicole sighed in relief. “Send it to me after we’re done here. I wanna take a look.”
There were seven more people left after Nicole and she relaxed against her chair, trying to concentrate on what they were saying instead of the second thoughts she was having about the story she was supposed to send Dianna. Why did she have to say it was finished already? If she had only said it would be done by the next day, she would have bought herself some time to read it over again. Not that it would make much difference. She always thought there was something that could have been better.
“Alright. We have some great stories, but I didn’t hear anything strong enough to be the cover.” The editor looked around the room. “I want some ideas, people.”
The room was silent for a few seconds as people looked around, trying to find inspiration in the past covers that hung on the walls. Dianna’s style was just so different from their previous editor that it threw everyone in for a loop. A few mumblings could be heard, their brains trying to kick start themselves and be productive until a voice sounded above them all.
“Ally Strong is in town.” All eyes turned to the reporter who had showed up late to the meeting. Nicole could see that she was sweating under the attention. “Maybe we could profile her?”
“That’s actually a very good idea.” Dianna seemed surprised and the girl relaxed. “Nicole, you usually handle profiles, right?”
“Sure, most of them.”
“Good. This one is yours, okay? You’re already finished with your current assignment, anyway.”
“Y-y-yeah. Okay. No problem.”
From the corner of her eye, Nicole saw Jake’s head snapping towards her. She knew she had stuttered and she was hoping her friend wouldn’t notice it, but no such luck. He was looking at her like she had grown a second head. She tried gathering her things as fast as possible after Dianna dismissed them, but the fingers around her wrist told her she wasn’t getting out of that conversation so easily.
“What was that, missy?”
“What was what, Jake?”
“This.” He gestured for her whole body, making Nicole roll her eyes. “Since when do you stutter and blush when you have to interview someone famous. I mean, I know it’s Ally Strong, biggest pop star of the last few years, but still.”
“You know what I think? I think you’re watching too much TV.”
“And I think you’re forgetting that it’s me you’re talking to. I know you, Nic. And I know when something messes with you. And this singer’s name? It was like a boulder through a windshield.”
Nicole sighed deeply and sat back down. She looked up and saw nothing but care and concern in Jake’s eyes. This was her friend’s version she liked the most. When he forgot to be sassy and ironic and was just a guy that cared deeply for his loved ones.
“You know what? You’re right. That name messed up with me. Satisfied?”
“Hell no! Of that, I was sure, already. What I really wanna know is why.”
“Can we talk about it later?” Nicole pleaded with him. She still needed a few minutes to try and understand things by herself. “You heard the boss. I have to send her my story.”
“I promise I won’t run from you.”