Chapter One: Troubled
Author Note: I entered this story to The HBO Writing Fellowship and received good judge feedback, the story made it to round 2, but I lacked industry background and did not win. I’m pushing on despite that defeat.
Inside an auditorium touched with old charm and bright sunlight, pictures of vibrantly colored, high quality art, hang on white walls. Each one boasts a silver, award winning sticker on the bottom left corner. A long table sits centered on the stage, where four people are seated. Someone stands before the table; a middle aged man with a wild gray-black beard waits as a white folder is viewed. A young woman evaluates the drawings within the folder, flipping through oil works of brown forests, gray nature landscapes, and pale blue oceans. Her expression uninterested as she looks over the plain work. One of the girl’s eyebrows arch.
Grace Heather glances away from the artwork she finds to be too tasteless for the agency. Her cute face set on a final decision as she slides the portfolio to someone beside her, no longer intent with the work. One by one, the others at the table silently judge the artwork, while Grace stares ahead at the client, collecting herself with a raise of her chin. “Your work is too...blah,” Her voice announces confidently. “There aren’t any specialties. Our company is striving for cutting edge, bold and unique pieces, and sadly this isn’t that.”
The client’s mouth drops. “Ha!” His tone goes blunt, as he looks around, offendedly, before stepping forward and snatching the folder from a judge. “THIS IS ART!” He yells rudely. “I’M NOT GOING TO LET A TEENAGER TELL ME OTHERWISE!”
“Sir, please relax,” A professionally dressed woman, who sits at the middle of the table, says calmly. The fine age of thirty compliments her nicely.
“No, I will not! Who are you allowing to work here? This is unacceptable! It’s too blah? What the hell does that even mean?!??!!”
"Please, sir, Ms. Heather is new, if you could control yourself, that would keep things civilized.”
“I don’t care, no, someone needs to be fired.” He eyes Grace, fuming and stuffing his work into a black duffle bag. “A real agent needs to be sitting there.” The man storms away, down the aisle of a dark wooded auditorium, flashing his middle finger. “Expect this experience reviewed on yelp and on my blog!” He leaves, allowing the door slam behind him.
A few members at the table murmur and shake their heads. The woman stands, her bleach blonde-hair shinning, she bares a stern approach. “Quiet.” Silence builds slowly between the agents at the table as the boss faces Grace. “Grace,” the woman says slowly.
“Yes, Ms. Watson?′
“Explain why a client’s work isn’t acceptable by breaking down the unsatisfactory details, render the evaluation to appear less harsh as well. I know it’s a bit tough, you’re still in training... but you must be more specific, no more time can be given to you.”
Ms. Watson gestures to a colleague who turns to face Grace. “The lighting was wrong, trees had shadows when they shouldn’t have, the water had not reflection, and the coloring was too dull and lacked excitement.” The colleague adds, nodding encouragingly.
“Precisely.” Ms. Watson agrees. “That is the proper way to address a client’s work. Also, remember to be thankful for their submission and give the client the motivation to try again. End the appraisal with, ‘I wish you luck on your adventure.’ She sighs. “This process is difficult to grasp...but you must be more specific. Please improve yourself.”
Grace bites her lip and hides shock; she thought the reason she had given was valid enough. Embarrassment flushes her spine, her chest rises swiftly, yet she delivers a formal nod. “My preparation will improve next time.” The group gathers their coats and bags from around their chairs before leaving the auditorium. Each of them inaudibly disappointed with her amateur judgment…again. The presence of body tingles and prickling hotness attacks Grace’s forehead.
She has been working for SpiritDraws for a month now and still had no potential progress. It had been hard getting the hang the assessing criteria. Being an art agent wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be. In her eyes, this was a dream; since she treasured drawing, but the position turned out to be a mistake. Nothing but failure is felt each day she doesn’t respond appropriately, and training wasn’t any better. Grace takes a deep breath to clear away a choking knot stuck in her throat. Her shaking hand pulls out a phone; her sad brown eyes read a brand new text that shows across the screen.
Text: Did it go well? 😬
Grace: Not really...
Reply: Aw. 😔 Do you want to meet up and talk about it? IHOP?
Grace: Yeah, I’ll be there in a few, thanks, ur the best, Hanny. 😊
Hannah: Hey, what are friends for? 👯
A sunny day shines down onto downtown Chicago, shimmering the glass of skyscrapers and cooking the streets, which shuffles vigorously with traffic. An old, berry colored Volkswagen rolls into a crowded IHOP parking lot, steering to the far back, and waits as a car reverses from a soon to be empty spot. Grace stays put for about a minute, until the car travels from the lot, before parking and exiting. She’s glad to see her best friend again. Cheeping comes from her car as she walks to the entrance of the blue and white restaurant. It had been five days, more like five centuries. This was the longest they’d ever been apart since Hannah visited her father in 8th grade.
Inside, Grace’s eager eyes find Hannah at a back booth in a sundress, her blonde hair glowing in orange sunlight. She walks back to the area, hearing soft music and loud chatter and smelling freshly cooked fries.
“Hey, long time no see,” she says, swooping down into a hug, “tell me, where have you been?” Grace observes her friend closely. “You went all M.I.A.” She takes a seat opposite Hannah.
“I did not! I texted you, drama queen.” Hannah titters goofily. “But, I must admit I didn’t tell you everything.”
“Because some things are meant to be told face to face. I have a surprise, like a huge one I need to tell you! No, wait. I think you can guess it right. 3.2.1” Hannah beams. “Go on, guess!”
“Okay, miss bossy.” Grace’s fingers drum on the table, something she does while thinking. “Hmm, have you finally found that missing earring??”
“No, that’s not it…I wish it was though, those icy blue ones were my favorite. When something is lost for years, you’re never finding it again.” She scoots up in her seat. “Take another guess.”
“Please don’t set me up with another guy from OkCupid, honestly, I hate blind dates. Especially the last one you arranged...remember the guy?” Grace shivers.
“Pete, he was really sweet...”
“No, sweet is bringing flowers or chocolates for the first date, not saying I love you. That’s creepy, not sweet.” She goes on pondering, squinting savagely. “Am I getting close?”
“Kind of.” Hannah’s voice trails.
“So, it involves a guy?”
“Yes!” Hannah resembles a happy puppy as she answers.
Two plates plank onto their table: pancakes, bacon, eggs, and strawberry milkshakes. A forty year old woman’s face sweetly grins at them, showing off an old soul. Her hair in a short, gray pixie cut. “Always the same?” She chuckles. “I swear you two have the same craving, no matter what time of the day.
“It’s morning somewhere, Pam.” Grace smirks at her.
“Yeeeeepp,” Hannah adds goofily.
“True, true...oh, and I added extra strawberry for you, Han since you were missed.”
Hannah gives a high five to Pam, who accepts it pleasantly. “Pammy, keep being awesome!”
“Our superstar of the month.”
Pam blushes. “Aww, thank you, little ladies. Enjoy your meals, okay?” Pam moves on to assist customers at a table beside them. Asking with a soothing tone, “How can I help you this afternoon?”
Grace chews on a piece of bacon, waving it animatedly. “It’s a blind date again, I know it.” Her full mouth muffles the words.
“Ugh, you’re hopeless at this! Okay.” Hannah straightens her back and holds her hands dramatically up in the air. “I met a guy in New York!”
Her friend freezes. “What?!!”
“Yeah! I popped up on my mom, who really missed me, she was so shocked. Oh, I also got you something for your b-day. But that doesn’t matter right now. So...I met this amazing guy! He’s so sweet.” Hannah sips her milkshake. “And something amazing happened!” She jumps up from her seat, in excitement, and reveals the palm of her hand.
“I don’t get it-what?” Grace stares up at her friend’s hand, blankly and visually befuddled.
Hannah twists her hand to its back-side, showing off an expensive, oval diamond ring, which sparkles.“I’M GETTING MARRIED!”
Grace’s eyes broaden in astonishment. “Okay, okay, wait.” She stands. “But...you just met him...”
“It doesn’t matter! I always believed in love at first sight. We met in the most dreamy way, that’s what it has to be. I feel like a character from a love story.” She twirls the ring around her finger. “This is fate. I can’t explain it, but it just is.” Hannah’s voice turns wistful.
Grace stares bewilderingly at her friend. “Let me get this straight...you knew him for one day??”
“Two days.” A frown spreads her face fast. “But I’m telling you, G, it’s not as crazy as you think. Of course, you don’t believe in silly things like this, but please be happy for me, even if I sound like a clueless teenager.”
Grace stares down at the floor for a moment, her mouth perched for a good while. She’s so happy…more than I ever seen her. How can I fight against that? Maybe this is right…She ends her trail of thought, focusing back on her friend’s distressed face, and forces a smile. “I will, and I am....but it’s just a lot to take in at once.” Grace gradually shifts her tight lips to a beam. Hannah hops up and down like a bunny. Squealing. “When is the wedding?”
Hannah’s pretty face lights up like a child’s. “NEXT MONTH! It all happens next month! I have a lot to plan. I need bridesmaids and groomsmen. You’re the maid of honor, duh, that’s like a no brainer….and dresses need to be picked out; there’s so much to do!”
Grace looks to Hannah in confusion. “Step back a little bit, why so fast? Who is this guy?”
“You remember David Michaels, right? The senior with the hottest bod in the yearbook?”
Grace sucks in a breath: swallowing hard, she definitely remembers him. Why wouldn’t I? A rattling heartbeat bangs her chest
“Hold on; I’ll show you a picture of him.” Hannah whips out her cell from a dress pocket, cheesing and wiggling in place, so joyfully. “He’s an up and coming insta model now, which is crazy!”
Grace looks to Hannah, quickly shielding a rush of panic. “I’m so happy for you.” She puts on a mask. “You...you always dreamed of this day, you h-had a whole scrapbook dedicated to this very moment.” Her voice wavers emotionally.
“Yep, summer camp 5th grade! I think I’ll still do the same theme. Aww, don’t cry because I’ll cry too!” She takes the maid of honor’s hands in hers. “I need you. I’m horrible at keeping things in order. I can’t even keep track of my damn shoes.”
Grace scoffs. “For real...” The two laugh agreeably, both sniffling with teary eyes.
“So, please be my co-bride if that’s even a thing.”
The friends stare deeply at one another, in a kindly and sensitive manner, their trust shows. Grace’s eyes swing nervously as she smiles again. This time in a more hasty fashion. “Han, you don’t even have to ask, I’m already on it.” The girls enter into a tight hug, one feeling jubilant, and the other injured and resentful. Grace’s mind steams up: This isn’t possible; David is the love of my life, not Hannah’s!