June 23, 2004
Rory’s pen moved without pause, the blue ink turning thoughts into words, taking shape before fully sounding in her mind. When you wait, you get to watch. You get to see how quickly and how slowly life moves. You get to consider what is and is not important. For some of us, waiting is a luxury, a blessing, a pleasure. Days like this, where her thoughts were clear and everything came to her so easily, were her favorite. Later, she would insist that the words came to her because she was in her favorite coffee shop and the day itself was so perfect. But for now, she knew only what came to her and what she wrote.
We get to sit back, to observe life as it goes on before us, and we get to think about all that we see and simply indulge in watching the performance before us. The woman with her children, trying to herd two small girls who are holding hands and skipping, singing as only small children can sing – slightly off-key and loudly, convinced of their own talent because no one has taught them otherwise yet. The young couple laughing, going into the bohemian café on the corner where they can listen to live music or a poetry reading or simply play a game of chess while they sip an exotic tea. Perhaps they’ll share one of the owner’s homemade pastries. A squirrel darts about the sidewalk, racing from one place to the next, unconcerned with the humans that walk about, save for those in its way.
Four years of college, two years of freelancing, and here she was. Waiting for that first big break. Working toward it by writing, for free, for pay; it didn’t matter so long as she got her name out there and built her reputation. It would be worth it in the end, Rory always told herself. For the last six months, her gigs came through word of mouth alone and kept her busy enough that she was able to move into her first apartment, a studio loft on the South Side of Pittsburgh that she shared with her college roommate, Selina Deitson.
When you wait, sometimes, the most unexpected wonders come to you, and you are privy to what so many others miss.
Waiting is an art, though it’s now one we’ve lost. It’s a cultural curse, a hindrance, an affliction meant to be overcome…
Rory paused and finally studied the words on the page of her steno pad, thinking only for a moment before continuing her musings, wanting to write what came to mind while it was fresh.
Not all waiting is so pleasant, of course.
Her thoughts turned darker, but she didn’t stop them.
Julie disappeared two years ago last month. Twenty-five months. She did what we woman are taught never to do – she was in a parking lot, alone, at night. She left us to wait, and wait we have. There is no pleasure in this sort of wait, not when the wait leaves parents in limbo, the in-between place between having a child and not having that child. You can lay claim to having had a child, but nothing more because you don’t know where she is or if she is. You don’t know if you would rather the uncertainty, which perversely allows some hope, or the certainty, particularly when that certainty brings your child’s body and, perhaps with it, knowledge of her last moments.
For those of us on the periphery, who can only claim Julie as a friend…
Friend? Only a friend? Julie had been much more than that. Best friends in middle and high school, she and Rory had once been as close as sisters. Distance had interfered during their college years, but only slightly. They could tell each other anything, everything, up until the last day that she spoke to Julie. Perhaps they had told too much.
From where she sat in Livvie’s, Rory stared out the shop’s front window, watching in particular the women who walked by. The pairs and trios, friends or acquaintances. Either-or. It didn’t matter. She thought of the two little girls she just wrote about, singing and skipping and simply being in the moment, and remembered how she and Julie had once been as carefree. Heedless of the future, perhaps, convinced that it would be nothing short of perfect. They were invincible. Once.
“Still writing, huh?”
Rory looked up to see her roommate and smiled. Looking at Selina’s biking shorts and t-shirt, her long brown hair in a ponytail, she guessed her friend was stopping by before going on her daily ride. “Stalking me?”
Taking a seat, Selina laughed. “Of course. Had to come out and wish you luck today – not to mention bring you a cookie. Chocolate chip. Livvie just took them out of the oven. So, you ready?”
“I think so.”
“You think? Roar, this is it. This is your dream. You’ve wanted to write for as long as I’ve known you, and you have. My God, kid, you got an interview with the next People and you say you think you’re ready? You’ve got to be ready. Channel your energies, focus, tell yourself that you got this. If you start to get nervous, think about that writing gig that involved those ferrets.”
“Ferrets! I start itching just thinking about them.”
“Yeah, who knew you were allergic to those things?” Selina said, taking half of the cookie for herself. “It was a good piece, though. Ironic, huh?”
“Wasn’t that my cookie, Deitson?”
“You weren’t eating it.”
“Why do I feel like I’m back in Lowe Dining Hall right now?”
Selina grinned. “Because you are. Because I remind you of those glorious undergrad days when we had nothing to do but pursue our passions and find a man to amuse us.”
“Speaking of, how’s your latest one?”
“On his way out. He wants to settle down, get married, have kids. I do, too, but not next week. If he mentions my being a stay-at-home mom again, you’ll see me on the evening news. How’d that date with the accountant go?”
“Eh, it was nice, but I’m just not feeling it.”
“The right guys will come along eventually. If not, hell, we’ll hang out together until they put us in a home.”
Rory lifted her coffee. “Here, here. A toast to Selina Deitson, one of the few women I know who doesn’t define herself by the man she dates, who can find me anywhere, and who knows when to bring cookies.”
Selina raised her water bottle. “To Rory Haverly, the woman who pursues her dreams and who is going to kick ass at her interview today.” She downed the remainder of the water and stood up. “The River Walk is calling my name. I’m going to get some biking done while I brainstorm my next proposal for work.”
“I always am. And, yes, before you ask – I have my helmet. It’s with my bike outside.”
“Okay. I’ll see you tonight. It’s my turn to cook, but if I get the job, I’ll treat us to dinner out.”
“Sounds good.” Selina leaned down and gave Rory a quick hug. “Good luck, Roar. You’ll do great.”
Rory watched her leave, checked her watch, and then flipped to a new page in her notebook. She had at least twenty minutes before she even had to think about crossing the street to go to her interview. Perhaps the greatest mystery in life is the mystery of friendship. What draws two people together? What compels them to say ‘I like you’? Certainly we have reciprocal relationships, tit for tat, quid pro quo. But I’m not writing of those. I’m writing on the ones that have no focus or purpose but these folks being together because being together feels good. Comfortable.
“Excuse me, are you Rory Haverly?”
Without waiting for confirmation, a woman, holding a cup of coffee and one of Livvie’s large chocolate chip cookies, sat down across from Rory. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve seen you here writing quite a few times and thought we could talk here. You applied for a position at my magazine.”
Rory smiled politely while she studied the woman. “I don’t mind at all, and company is always welcome, though I don’t believe I know your name.”
Maggie hid her own smile. Rory didn’t know it yet, but the interview was off to a good start. While it wasn’t her habit to interview candidates in coffee houses, she did believe is catching them off guard and judging them on their ability to react professionally. For the last two years, she had seen Rory at least once a week, sitting at the same table, an iced coffee at her elbow, writing longhand, filling pages without pause. At first, she’d watched, impressed by her intensity. Then, she began to wonder at what captivated her so completely that she could shut out the world while writing. When a resume for a Rory Haverly crossed her desk and internet research revealed a picture of the woman she always saw at Livvie’s, Maggie decided it was a sign.
“Maggie Grant. We haven’t officially met,” she said, extending her hand. Again, she found herself pleased as Rory stood and shook to shake hands rather than simply reaching up from where she sat. Deciding to continue her casual approach, she broke off a piece of her cookie and popped it into her mouth. “These are phenomenal,” she said, pausing to close her eyes and take in the taste of fresh-from-the-oven, still-half-melted chocolate chips. “I trust you’ve tried Livvie’s cookies?”
Rory nodded and gestured to the remains of her own cookie. “Regularly. You’re seriously Maggie Grant? The owner of American Faces?” Rory laughed then. The owner of the publication that she would give her right arm to work at was sitting across from her? Had she actually sought her out? Impossible.
“You’re Maggie Grant? The owner of the tiny start-up magazine that went from nothing to national in just two years? Pittsburgh’s Business Woman of 2003?”
Maggie reached into her purse, pulled out a folded piece of cream-colored paper and a business card, and handed both to Rory. “Yes.”
Unfolding the paper, Rory’s disbelief vanished as she looked at the resume she’d written specifically for American Faces.
“I’m looking for a writer and suspect that you might be the right fit for my staff. Your college experience, paired with the last two years of freelancing, tell me that you aren’t the sort to sit back and wait for things to come to you.”
Rory nodded, studying the business card, wanting to slide under the table. Margaret M. Grant, Editor-in-Chief. So much for her dream job. “I suppose an apology for laughing at you is in order.”
“Nonsense.” Maggie said. “A healthy sense of skepticism is what I’m looking for. Frankly, I wouldn’t have believed me either. Rory, I need someone who won’t spend her days trying to impress me. If I wanted opinionless minions, I would recruit wet-behind-the-ears college seniors desperate for a job. I need someone who’s cynical enough to distrust her appearances and, from what I’ve been told, you’re rather jaded for one so new to the field. While I wouldn’t recommend your laughing at interviews, I do like that you did your research on my magazine and were prepared.”
Someone of Maggie’s caliber, Rory knew, didn’t seek out interviewees at coffee shops because she liked the font on someone’s resume. She had done her research before coming here. “From what you’ve been told, you say.” She was getting past her initial embarrassment now and her mind began to click. Opportunity was knocking, she realized, and how she handled herself would determine the rest of her career. When you wait, sometimes, the most unexpected wonders come to you, and you are privy to what so many others miss. Didn’t she just write those words? Two years of writing, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes for pay, but always with passion. Two years and here she was, sitting across from Maggie Grant. “So tell me, what do you know – and from whom – and what can I tell you?”
Maggie decided that her instincts were dead-on. As rattled as Rory was, if the way she was twisting her college ring was any indication, she wasn’t letting it control her. “Your college adviser and I went to school together. Sandra Wolff and I were roommates at Bryn Mawr. When I called her, she invited me to lunch and regaled me with stories. Your talent is not an issue for me, so my interest is in your personality. What I want to know is where you see yourself in five years. I want to know why you write and what you expect to get from working for my magazine.”
“If Dr. Wolff told you stories, you know I’m stubborn and opinionated. Did she tell you that I have an over-inflated sense of self when it comes to writing and that she always said I was arrogant enough that I’d edit Hemingway if he worked for me?”
Sandra’s stories about Rory’s tenure as editor had left Maggie laughing. The young woman was rough around the edges, she was too new to the field to be anything else. However, Sandra had assured her that Rory had the one quality that Maggie prized above all: she wasn’t a drama queen. Maggie nodded and took Rory’s steno pad, flipping it open to a random page.
“Fiction,” she said after a moment. “When he did, I wanted to rake his face with my fingernails. Anger, rage, finding the right medium to express it all,” she read the words aloud, then trailed off to read silently. For the second time in an hour, Rory wanted to slide under the table. Of all the pages to read, Maggie had to find the one that hit closest to home. “You’re sending this out.” It was a statement, an expectation, not a question. Rory nodded.
“I’m partial to From the Forest for essays.”
“Good. Don’t give up your fiction when you start at American Faces. Do you blog?”
Was the Pope Catholic? She did, but shook her head no. Primer was her private outlet, the one place where she could write freely and – because she wrote under an assumed name – without fear of offending a potential client. “Paxton Robel” was too edgy and too blunt and, sometimes, too darkly sexual, of an author for some of her clients, particularly those who paid her to write their blogs about their products. She doubted that the owner of a company such as Luv Your Baby would hire someone who wrote about feminist issues to rhapsodize about the rewards of being a traditional stay-at-home mom. Rory wrote about being traditional; “Paxton” wrote about society stifling women and forcing them into outdated, suffocating roles. Ironic, she knew, but better for business. “I ghostwrite company blogs,” she said. “But that’s about it for now.”
Maggie turned to a blank page in the notepad and scribbled something. “Here,” she said, pushing the pad to Rory. “If you’re amenable to my offer, tell me when you can start.”
Rory glanced at the number on the page. It was more than she had hoped for. Despite learning that you never accept the first offer, she didn’t see the point in haggling. She wanted the job. Her current gigs would be wrapped up over the next few weeks. “I can start July first.”