Dear Mia: From, Your Opportunistic Boss
I make it to my desk precisely at 8:25, feeling a sense of calm that I wasn’t running late. After a weekend full of surprises, it’s nice to return to a steady routine. I hum as I tuck my purse away in a desk drawer and swivel in my chair to turn on my computer and check my emails, but I’m kept from typing in my password when Casey comes bounding up to my side, a little out of breath and her eyes wide.
“Lilian’s been asking for you,” she says quietly, as though it’s a huge secret.
The statement wouldn’t have surprised me had it not been first thing in the morning. Lilian Adler is perpetually late.
“She’s here already?” my heart stops beating out of fear. I’d set three different alarms so that I’d wake up on time this morning. This couldn’t be happening. “Am I late again?”
“Nope,” Casey shakes her head, her expression grim. “She came in early.”
That’s not good. I’m certain all the color has left me cheeks. “She never comes in early.”
The last time this happened, she’d discovered someone was spilling our story ideas to a competitor and she’d come in early to decide the best way to fire them. That was when I was an intern. Which meant that whatever she wanted to see me for was a huge deal. Like maybe she wants to fire me. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a reason why she has any cause to do so, but I figure that doesn’t really matter anyway.
“I know,” Casey breathes out, nodding towards Lilian’s office, where the Editor-In-Chief is staring intently at her computer screen. “Probably better not to keep her waiting.”
Nodding, I gulp and take deep breath before shakily pushing myself to my feet, sending Casey a worried glance as I headed towards the glass office in the center of the department. I knock timidly, despite the door being open, my heart pounding when Lilian looks up from her computer. “I was told you wanted to see me.”
“Mia, yes, take a seat,” she nods, and I perch myself on the edge of one of the super stylish but wildly uncomfortable low backed chairs, lacing my fingers together to keep my hands occupied as she turns her computer screen to face me. “I want you to explain this.”
The screen shows an article from a celebrity news website, the headline reading, Who is Hunter’s mystery girl?
Below the headline are two side by side pictures. The first one is a bit dark and a little blurry, as though taken with a camera phone and features a man and a woman kissing. The man is clearly Hunter - the distinctive forearm tattoos peeking out from beneath the rolled up sleeves of his shirt are a dead giveaway - but the woman’s face is obscured. So my first instinct is to say I have no idea what’s going on, but then I realize that my flame colored hair is recognizable from about three miles away, so there’s really no point in shifting the focus.
Plus, the second picture kind of negates any argument I have about it not being me, seeing as it’s a high quality paparazzi picture of Hunter and I sitting in a diner booth, smiling at each other over the tops of our menus. If the second picture had been the only one to exist, I could have said things between us are strictly platonic, but I’m out of options and I don’t have any clue how to explain myself, so all I manage to whisper is, “Oh.”
“That’s all you have to say?” Lilian raises one perfectly tweezed eyebrow.
“What do you want me to say?” I ask quietly. I can’t tell how she feels about the whole situation. Maybe she thinks I took the whole ‘experiencing life’ thing too far. Or maybe she wants me to take it further. Both possibilities have me terrified.
She sighs softly. “I don’t know. To be honest, I didn’t think you’d take it this far.”
“Take what this far?” I have an idea of what she might mean, but I need further clarification.
“The whole immersing yourself thing,” she replies, “I just thought you’d go to a party and write what you observed. I didn’t think you’d actually start dating a celebrity.”
My eyes widen in horror at the conclusions she’s drawn from the pictures. “We’re not-”
She continues before I can tell her she has it all wrong, the corners of her lips kinking into a smile. “I have to say, I’m impressed.”
I pause in my quest to set the record straight because I feel an odd sense of pride. It’s nice to be the cause of someone’s pleasant surprise. “You are?”
“You’re really stepping out of your comfort zone, here, Mia,” her smile widens and I feel myself relax a little, “I’m proud of you.”
Her words are only a relief until I realize that she probably wants me to stay out of my comfort zone. “So you’re saying that you want me to date him.”
“I’m saying,” she chooses her words carefully, “that being in a celebrity’s inner circle is a journalistic goldmine.”
“Isn’t that kind of…wrong, though?” I ask nervously. It’s not an entirely unheard of concept. Plenty of journalists have gone ‘undercover’ to infiltrate the lives of high profile people. And as much as I wish I could be the kind of person who is bold enough to get into a story that deep, the idea of it has me squirming in my seat. Especially because I’m pretty sure I’m not programmed to be coy. Plus, I genuinely enjoyed spending time with Hunter and it would feel so…gross to use him that way.
Still, Lilian seems unperturbed by my objection. “Look, the truth is that you’ll be helping him as much as yourself. Let’s face it, Hunter Caldwell doesn’t exactly have the best reputation. Being connected to someone stable and normal will boost his approval ratings, sort of speak.”
“So it’s win-win,” I deadpan, because I don’t know that I believe in her logic. The possibility of it working out well isn’t enough of a reason to do it.
“Exactly,” she smiles brightly, not understanding that I’m not actually agreeing. I probably should have been more clear. “You get a story and he gets back into the public’s good graces.”
“Right,” I say softly, not sure how to tell her that there’s no way in hell I could pull it off. Maybe I can stall and come up with a better solution after a few days of mulling it over. “Can I just think about it for a little bit?”
Her smile slowly fades as she realizes we’re not on the same page. She throws her shoulders back and looks me straight in the eyes. “I’m not giving you an option, Mia. This is an assignment.”
“Oh.” I blink. I wonder if she’s allowed to do that. She’s my boss, so generally, when she gives me writing assignments, I do them, no questions asked, but this is different. She’s not asking me to write my opinion on the bookstore that opened up around the corner or find a central theme to tie in my advice letters. She’s asking me to make a significant change to my life.
I’ve never been impulsive. I’ve never been the kind of person who could decide one night to go on a road trip and just pack up and leave. It takes me a few weeks of internal debating just to decide whether or not to try a new shade of lipstick. Delving into the life of a celebrity is the farthest thing from up my alley.
“You want to write featured articles, right?” Lilian looks at me pointedly and I shift uncomfortably in my seat, “Well, this is your shot. Write this story for me and after that, I’ll let you write whatever you want.”
My eyes widen at the offer and I gulp nervously as I consider my options. If I refuse, then the advice column is all that will be on my resume for as long as I stay at Glow. And although it’s not a horrible option, because I do genuinely enjoy reading the letters I’m sent and giving advice, I’m not sure that I want to do exactly the same thing for the rest of my career. Plus, this is my chance to show Lilian that I can do more, that I can be more.
So I take a deep breath and throw my shoulders back and speak with as much confidence as I can muster. “What’s my deadline?”
Lilian grins. “Let’s say three months for now, but we’ll see how it goes.”
“Okay.” I nod, pushing myself from the chair and turning to leave, giving myself a mental pep talk as I leave the office.
Three months isn’t that long. I can handle keeping a secret for three months. And it’s not like it’ll be a lie, exactly. It’s not as though I’ll be leading Hunter on by making him think I have feelings for him while actually hating him. Because the truth is that I do like him, and I think spending time with him is only going to make me like him more.
“So, how’d it go?” Casey asks when I return to my desk, planting her feet on the ground to stop the rotation she’d been doing in my rolling chair.
I know that at some point, this is going to require a longer, more in depth explanation, but for now, I settle for, “She wants me to date Hunter Caldwell and write an article about it.”
Casey blinks as she processes this information. “Damn.”
“I know,” I sigh, sinking into my chair after she stands up.
She crosses her arms over chest. “Are you gonna do it?”
“She said she’ll let me write feature articles if I do,” I reply, trying my best to rationalize the situation in my mind.
Maybe Lilian’s right about this being a win-win situation. Anyone remotely in tune with pop culture knows that Hunter Caldwell has a bit of a reputation, as evidenced by the number of young women he’s been photographed with over the course of his career. Which he’s completely entitled to do, especially seeing as if he weren’t famous, no one would bat an eyelash at his dating life. But the media and the general public have the tendency to hold people in the spotlight to a higher standard, so what would be considered a completely normal love life under normal circumstances leaves Hunter labeled as a womanizer.
So maybe he’ll see the benefits of dating me. Maybe we can help each other out. Whether or not I decide to tell him the truth is entirely another matter. Because lord knows someone in his position has enough trust issues as it is. I know I would.
While I’m having an entire internal debate, Casey doesn’t think twice, shrugging and smiling widely. “Then what are you waiting for?”
I part my lips to list off several reasons why it’s a horrible idea, but she’s already gone and I sit frozen in my chair for a good five minutes before I come to the conclusion that she’s right. It’s my hesitation to try anything new that keeps me from progressing as a person, so it’s about time I do something for myself.
Taking a deep breath, I dig my phone out from my purse and scroll through my contact list until I find the number Hunter entered at the diner. I stare at as I slowly but surely gain the nerve to actually press the call button, deciding that speaking to him on the phone means that the nerves will last for a shorter period of time than if I text.
The phone rings twice before someone answers. “Hunter’s phone, Ian speaking.”
It takes me about fifteen seconds to connect the name to the band’s lead guitarist. “Oh, um, hi, is Hunter there?”
“Who should I tell him is calling?”
I don’t know why, but just saying my name has me nearly shaking. “Mia.”
“Mia!” Ian says brightly, apparently instantly recognizing me, “I’m so glad you called because Hunter has literally not stopped talking about you and hopefully now he’ll stop sulking like a lovesick puppy and-hey!”
Ian isn’t able to finish his thought and there’s a commotion before Hunter’s voice rings through the speaker, sounding a bit embarrassed. “Hey, Mia.”
It shouldn’t matter, but the fact that he seems flustered makes me feel a bit better. “Hi.”
“Please ignore everything my ex best friend just said,” he says, and I imagine him tugging his fingers through his hair nervously.
I can’t help but smile, feeling a bit giddy at the knowledge that he’s mentioned me to his friends. “Okay.”
“So what’s up?”
This is it. All I have to do is ask him out. It can’t be that hard. Unfortunately, my brain and mouth don’t seem to be cooperating. “Well, umm…”
“I’m glad you called,” he speaks up before I can spit out my reasoning.
I feel my body relax slightly and my smile widens. It’s nice to know that he’s been thinking about me too. Suddenly, the amount of time I’d spent since our lunch marveling at how things between us were just so easy didn’t seem as ridiculous. “You are?”
“Yeah, I wanted to apologize for having to make such a quick exit on our date.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” I reply automatically, freezing when I fully process what he’s just said, “wait did you say date?”
Is that what it was? That’s definitely what I was hoping it was. I just wasn’t sure that he felt the same way. I thought maybe he was just being polite. But now that I think about, he was the one who sought me out, so maybe I should have picked up on the hints.
“Well, yeah, I thought it was a date,” he replies with a light chuckle, “But I now realize I didn’t actually ask you out, did I?”
“Why don’t I ask you out?” I blurt out.
There’s a moment of silence, as though he’s making sure he heard me correctly, and I start to wonder if being bold has taken a disastrous turn. “What?”
“That’s why I called, actually,” I say, inhaling deeply to calm my nerves and deciding since it’s out there, I might as well finish the job, “To ask you out. What do you say? Wanna go on a date with me?”
This time, there’s no hesitation, and I can hear him smiling through the phone. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Good,” I let out a sigh of relief, feeling my entire body warm, my veins filling with sunshine. “What about tomorrow night?”
“What about tonight?” he counters. “It’s sooner.”
My heart rate spikes and the grin on my face widens further. It hasn’t even been two days, but I’m excited to see him again. “Oh, okay, yeah that works. 8?”
“Perfect,” he replies. “I’ll come pick you up.”
“Okay.” By this point, I’m practically giggling and I realize I should end the conversation before I’m branded as the office’s lovestruck fool. “I should probably get back to work. See you tonight.”
He hangs up the phone and I’m still grinning like an idiot as I turn to my computer to begin my day’s work. I can’t wait for tonight either.