Blast from the Past
Harper looked around the room and groaned. The open office left nowhere to hide, and she was just about sick of the excitement that was mounting. Yet again, her boss Carmella Dixon was preparing to receive her latest future award winning author into the office, and all the assistant editors under her were foaming at the mouth, vying for attention, wanting to be the one chosen for this project. To make their names known and carry favour with their leader.
As a lowly proof-reader at a large independent publishing company in London, she was a zillion miles from ever getting anywhere near an editor role, and even further from a place as a published writer, her real dream. Which was heart breaking to her. She only took this job to have a chance to work in the literature world after several years trying to get published, which only left her with a room full of rejection letters. Her optimistic heart had hoped that she would walk into a job and people would see her talent. But it wasn’t like that. It seemed the literature world was saturated with celebrities, often minor who wanted to publish a heavily ghost-written book.
Maybe it was being born to such a book lover, a mother who had named her after such an iconic writer, that made her so obsessed with the written word, but maybe it was more than that. She couldn’t say. But for as long as she could remember, she had found her happiness between the pages of a book. She’d holidayed with a book stuck to her nose, literally blindly bumping her way on to ferries or planes, unable to put down her latest escape. It was more than a hobby, more than a passion. She had always believed that this was her life, that she was destined to be an author.
But sitting on the far side of an open plan office, proof reading what was often very poor prose was depressing. Especially when she had a pile of failed novels at home that often hadn’t even garnered a letter of rejection, that she knew were better. It seemed that talent or pedigree meant nothing in the world of literature. Because, if there was one thing she had, she had pedigree. She had attended Cambridge for her primary degree, then the equally prestigious St Andrews for her Masters. She’d considered taking a turn to journalism, but it wasn’t the investigation she liked, it was the creation, the growth, the depth, the descriptions. She loved being creative, that was her thing.
But despite acing all her courses, it had all run dry, because creative talent and enthusiasm didn’t equal book deals. All she wanted was to have people appreciate her work, all she got was this.
She glanced around, usually she kept her head down, hiding from everyone else. But today the open plan office was buzzing. Some reality star was coming into the office to discuss his book deal, and it was likely to be a hit because it would be marketed that way. This man had no experience, hadn’t written more than his name as far as she knew, but he was famous, in some capacity, and that meant more opportunity than she’d ever get through hard work and talent.
Bitterness wasn’t a great attribute, but she couldn’t fight it, she felt hard done by.
Carmella had a glass walled office that ran the length of the room, the rest of the room consisted of minute cubicles, barely big enough for a desk, separated by waist high partitions so that there was literally no privacy. She sat at the far end, away from the boss. Popularity and seniority saw people move towards her. After eight months of working there, Harper had given up on ever getting across the room. She was destined to be lowly proofreader until she quit or died.
Maggie and Daniel, the two highest placed assistant editors were skipping from their desks back and forth to Carmella’s office gushing with enthusiasm that she couldn’t believe was genuine, helping prepare the office for the arrival. She wasn’t sure a male reality TV star would want canapes and non-alcoholic wine, but that was what she could see on display through the glass office wall.
Some of the other staff were trying to get in on the act, but this was a three-pronged attack, they were all primed, and she almost felt sorry for the prospective author, whoever he was.
Makayla, the receptionist burst into the room, causing everyone to look up as she bounded past those first few cubicles, the work homes and desks of the most trusted people, lemmings came to mind, scurrying in waves, to do their leader’s bidding, all waiting with baited breath.
“He’s here, Ms Dixon.”
Not Carmella and not Miss Dixon, she was a Ms, and woe betide you if you got it wrong. At that news, the usually icy calm Carmella Dixon looked flustered for a moment, then pushing the ever-enthusiastic assistants out of her office, she sat behind her desk, took a deep breath, then nodded, “send him in please.”
Watching it all, Harper had no idea who 'he' was, and no intention of finding out, because this was exactly as she’d imagined a soap opera would be. She rarely watched TV but knew that this level of drama was what a TV show like that could only hope for. Carmella trying to look nonchalant, the excitement causing diminishing waves across the workers, dependent on where they were in the room. It was all so…fake.
Harper could handle it no longer, getting to her feet, she left the room, heading for the bathroom. She had no intention of hanging around to watch this display of fakery and pretentiousness.
In the sanctuary of the toilet cubicle, she lowered herself on to the lowered seat and closed her eyes. Being so close to where she wanted to be, yet a million miles away, was heart-breaking. Time out was needed, away from the office floor. Before she did something stupid.
Seb hated being kept waiting, not because he was arrogant enough to think he was too important, but because ten years in the military had taught him that punctuality was everything. Now, sat in this goldfish bowl, aware of the dozens of eyes watching from outside, whilst pretending that they weren’t, he was pissed off. He looked around the office and groaned, Carmella Dixon was the Cruella d’Ville of the publishing world, and she was loving holding court. He had no time for the histrionics and dramatics of the current meeting, but he needed to get his book written and published, give his story. This was the way. Lloyd, his best friend and agent-slash-advisor had arranged this meeting and was strongly encouraging him to go along with this. To make it work. Lloyd had specifically, called him en route and talked him down. Because he wanted to be anywhere but there. And he was right, this was a shower of shit, these people, this place…the whole deal.
He had no time for pretence, and she seemed to be the queen of it.
“Say-bah-steen.” Carmella purred, and it set his teeth on edge. He had been Seb since he joined the army as a wet-behind-the-ear and naïve eighteen year old. Twelve hard years later he was a different man, but the way that woman said his name took him back to a time before, way before then, when he was an optimistic kid the same as anyone else. Yup, Sebastian Clark had had a variety of names over the years, from Magic – his ability to walk out of most situations unscathed, Sebby by his now deceased grandmother, to Nobby – a natural nickname for the name Clark, apparently. But it was the one from his school days that brought such nostalgia, when a whole High School called him Se-Bastard, initially, then that became The Bastard, or Basty for short. An ironic play on words that he’d loved at the time, for the shock value.
“Sorry, what?” He realised Carmella and the chinless wonders who were brown nosing her, were all staring at him.
“I just asked if you were happy with our pitch?”
Was he? She’d talked at him, pointed at various people and told him they could take his book from good to great. He was only here because a huge part of him wanted to avoid large conglomerates, in life he chose small designers, local stores…anything to avoid the commercialism that the world had become. This was the largest independent publisher, and he had hoped for more. Specificity, individuality, something personal. Instead, he was left with a bad taste in his mouth. This was more pantomime that the reality show he’d been roped in to.
He groaned, because that was another decision he regretted, despite the fact that this book was even being written or published at all, was entirely due to him becoming well known for appearing in a TV show. It had been a fly-on-the-wall house share show, a low budget Big Brother on a small internet station. His no nonsense attitude with the other house members who were rather silly, had made him a fans’ favourite, and he’d become a minor celeb through the coverage and the furore that went with it.
It was great for his causes, military veterans, but he hated that people knew him, wherever he went. He hated that people fawned all over him, wanting to do everything to share the limelight he hated, just like in this very office.
“I…err…” He took a deep breath. “I know the story I am telling; I have no need for a huge editing team. It will be what it will be. After all, it’s my story.”
Cruella grimaced, he wondered if it was meant to be a smile, because it didn’t reach her eyes. “The written word is so different from the spoken one. The purpose of an editing team is to make the most out of the words you write, to maximise your impact.”
“I am open to suggestion, but not to being bulled.”
He watched the six sets of eyes fix on him, all desperate, like vultures around a dying animal.
“Oh, we don’t bully, Say-bah-steen. We just advise, and assist.”
Studying them all, one-by-one, he was tempted to walk out, but this was the last resort, he had rejected every other publisher. But the thought of having these people edit his story made his skin crawl.
He half turned, to look out at the office. Minions scurrying about barely lifting their eyes off the floor, no bullying? He wasn’t sure about that. Distaste made him want to turn and leave. Instead he used the deep breaths that his counsellor had taught him, anxiety easing breaths.
He was about to turn back to the team, to make a decision with gritted teeth, when he spotted someone, across the room. A woman walked into the room, head held high, jet black shoulder length hair swinging as she moved, her curvy body wrapped in a non-descript blouse, and shorts, which seemed like a ’fuck you’ to the rest of the office, whilst showing off her legs…and she had legs that went on for miles.
It wasn’t until she glanced at something outside the door that he saw her face, and if he hadn’t had been sitting, he’d have fallen over. There was something he recognised, instantly…the way she pushed her black rimed glasses up her nose with her right thumb. It immediately rang the bell of familiarity in his mind and dragged him out of his chair.
Stepping towards the glass partition, he watched her pull out her seat, then sink into it, hair falling like a curtain around her. She stood out like a sore thumb, a non-conforming and very notable thumb. She was both familiar, but also a stranger, it had been a lifetime since he’d last seen her.
He glanced over his shoulder at the three, sat there watching him intently.
“You are right, I do want the Best.”
That made the three of them smile, and he threw the office door open and stepped out of it.
“If I do this, I want my editor to be the Best…Harper Best.”
Her name was said at a shout and it made her freeze in position, as every single set of eyes in the full office turned to stare at her.
Carmella had followed him and was muttering in surprise at his side, but his eyes were on the woman who was refusing to look up, refusing to acknowledge her name.
Slowly she exhaled, he could see her shoulders drop even from this distance, then she turned, her normally olive skin was flushed with embarrassment. He remembered how easy it had always been to illicit that blush, and it was almost comforting that it was the same now. Had he ever enjoyed teasing anyone as much as he had her?
When her eyes finally met his, he wanted to groan, she was as unusual and traffic stopping as she always had been…she’d not known it back then, and clearly still didn’t now.
Shock took over her expression as she took him in for a moment, then her mouth fell open, “The-Bastard?"