"I understand, Ruth. It won't happen again.” She gives me that annoyed look from above the rim of her black glasses. Like she knows all too well that I'm going to disappoint her again.
Being a journalist for Author Magazine since I was twenty-three has me closing in on three years of working for this particular title. You'd think, by now, I could write that one piece every writer craves. The article that delivers goosebumps through every brainwave because you deeply feel the words. Eating or sleeping becomes a thing of the past because the story's message lives in your mind so vividly.
I've yearned for so long to find the story that sets me apart from every other journalist out there. My story.
"I don't know anymore, Blaire. This is the third book review that you've written that's ended in complete disaster and caused a huge upset with the authors."
Author Magazine prides itself on providing the hottest and best data on today's favorable novels and authors. I had an assignment to write a review on one of the newest science fiction authors. If I'm being honest, it's not my favorite genre. I'm more of a romance reader, but Ruth says a good writer needs to broaden their horizons. A challenge I took under my wing and failed horribly, might I add. My article was and I quote, “Boring and completely irrelevant to the moral of the book,” according to the author. It's like I nodded off through the whole thing.
"Is there anything I can do to redeem myself, Ruth? I promise I'll try harder and keep an open mind,” I say, sucking in a breath.
"I'm sorry, Blaire. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. I can't have you writing these pieces and upsetting our clients. As of right now, you are on a temporary suspension until I figure out what to do with you." I exhale, feeling my heart plummet as Ruth rips it from my chest and squeezes it to death with her words.
Ruth’s phone rings as I'm about to beg harder than I ever have in my life.
Ugh, what's wrong with me?
I used to love reading and writing. I would get so lost in books, no matter the genre. I partly blame Nolan for this. He's my boyfriend of two years and he's never been supportive of my passion for writing. Which is crazy because we met at a bookstore. He reached for the last copy of Tessa Duke’s The Wallflower Wager at the same time I did. The book just came out and I was dying to read it. After a compelling reason why I needed the book, which conceivably involved too much personal information on my end, he let me have the novel. It was nearing Christmas time and Nolan said Tessa was his mother's favorite author. We talked for hours about books and everything under the sun after that.
Nolan graduated from New York University last year and things haven't been the same since. Although I was very impressed by his academics and the dedication he puts into his passions, it doesn't leave much room for anything else. Since he started teaching history at NYU earlier this year, there's been less and less time for us. Giving me more time to think about the things that truly matter.
"Are you kidding me?! I needed this piece, Stella!" My boss's abrupt shouting startles my reverie.
Eavesdropping on her conversation, it appears that she's talking to Stella Humphrey. She's the other top leading journalist at Author Magazine. I wouldn't exactly say we're friends, but I wouldn't say we hate each other either. We have a mutual understanding that we equally despise each other. The relationship is spitefully beautiful.
"Well, thanks for nothing!" Ruth says harshly, slamming the phone down. I'm guessing she's not going to be in a forgiving mood.
Ruth leans back in her chair and runs her fingers through her curly brown hair, seemingly frustrated. Her charcoal blazer rides up her stomach as she extends her arms up over her head. She looks at me quizzically like an idea zapped into her head.
"You know what, Blaire? I'm going to give you one more shot. I need you to cover this story Stella was supposed to write. It appears she's gotten herself into a bit of a pickle and can't go now."
"Oh? Is Stella okay?" I ask, ostensibly interested, but I could honestly care less. I'm so beyond pleased to hear she'll be giving me another shot. My heart just went from failure to celebration in two minutes flat.
"Stella will be out for a few weeks. She broke her ankle ice skating and obviously can't travel..."
"Wait, travel? What's the assignment?"
"You know the author, Hutton Clarke. What am I saying? Of course, you do because you're a big romance buff. Anyway, I need you to track Hutton down and get the scoop on her new book. No one can seem to find out where she is. She keeps herself pretty private."
My heart flutters in my chest. This is the best news I've heard all year! I actually might get to meet her?!
“Wow, I'm so honored to have this opportunity, Ruth.”
"Rumor has it Hutton likes to move from place to place. She's been spotted all over the U.S, Canada, Alaska." She lets out, completely ignoring my fangirl excitement.
"Wow, that's a lot of searching.”
Ruth gives me that beady eyed look and I suck in my lips, trying to refrain from talking a moment further.
"I need you to get this story, Blaire. Having the lead on Hutton Clarke's upcoming book would be exceedingly beneficial for us since that new author's blog opened up online. There's so much social media and internet frenzy these days. People don't like to pick up a magazine anymore." Ruth shakes her head in annoyance.
"Got it. I won't let you down, Ruth. Thank you so much for this opportunity."
"I'll give you two weeks to get it done. If you can't deliver, you might as well clean out your office," she sternly says, not making eye contact as she shuffles some papers on her desk.
Ruth’s always been pretty straightforward in everything she says. It's partly why I think she's so good at what she does. She doesn't take no for an answer or handle disappointment very well.
"I understand, Ruth."
"Great. Now get out of here. I have a ton of Stella’s work to finish." She waves me away with her manicured fingers.
"Thanks again, Ruth,” I say meekly, partly regretting coming off as pathetic with my sucking up. I'm just so grateful to be given the opportunity.
Stepping out of her office, heading back to mine, I open my door and see my best friend sitting in my chair with her feet on my desk.
Ugh! It drives me nuts when she does that!
"Ruby, would you please get your dirty shoes off my desk?! I have important papers on it that I'd like not to be tainted with your shoe muck." She smirks as she pulls her feet off. "Thank you." I plop in the chair across from her and let out a deep sigh.
"So how'd that go? Rumor in the coop is that you're getting canned."
"People are already talking about it?" I run my fingers through my dirty blonde hair and close my eyes, feeling like I'm stuck in a neverending rut of disaster.
Ruby lets out a chuckle. "Honey, people were already talking about it a month ago when you called Stephanie Meyer's Twilight books unrealistic and clumsy."
"In my defense, I never understood the concept. I mean, why make Bella fall in love with two men? Forcing us to choose which guy we liked better and then breaking our hearts when she chose the wrong one."
"So, you're a bitter reader? You can't write these reviews and completely slam the author for not choosing what you wanted to happen. These stories are fiction, Blaire."
"Yeah, well I was always taught to write what you know. Write what's honest and what feels right. Clearly, I'll never live that one down because of how blown up her stories have gotten. Who knew?"
Ruby and I chat for a bit longer and head out of the office and grab some drinks at a local bar. I give her the scoop on the assignment Ruth wants me to take.
"Damn, she must want to fire you. There's no way in hell you'll ever be able to find Hutton Clarke."
The waitress interrupts my response by setting our drinks on the wooden table. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but did you just mention Hutton Clarke?"
"Yes. Do you know her?" I ask, eager to hear her response.
"I don't personally know her, but I know her books. Hutton’s only like the greatest author alive. She's pulled me from some pretty bad breakups and has also been the reason I've found love. Her words are so inspirational!"
"That's great, but she's also extremely good at being invisible." My gaze falls back to Ruby. "I honestly don't know how I'm going to find out where she is. I might as well grab a map and throw a dart at it and start there."
This mission most definitely seems impossible.
"Well, that's easy. I would start in Nome, Alaska. I was at her last book signing and she mentioned something about it to one of her people. I can't be certain, but it sounded like she had family there. Maybe a good place to start?" The waitress chimes in.
Thank goodness for nosey waitresses!
"That's the best lead I have! Thank you! What's your name?"
"It's Quinn." I hear the other bartender call for her as she looks over her shoulder. "Well, I better get back to work, but it was nice meeting you. I hope you find Hutton."
"Thank you, Quinn." She smiles and walks off towards the bar.
"Well, how about that? A few hours into Mission Impossible and you've already got a pretty solid lead." My best friend lets out.
"Alaska, huh? Isn't that like the frozen tundra of the Earth? How can anyone possibly enjoy living there?"
"I don't know, Blaire. I guess you'll find out."
Finishing up our drinks, I bid Ruby goodbye and settle into my vehicle. The apartment Nolan and I live in is located in Manhattan, so it's about a fifteen-minute commute to NYU for him, but it takes me longer to get home from the other side of the city.
Opening the front door, my nostrils are filled with a delicious aroma.
"Hey Babe! How was your day?" Nolan excitedly greets me at the door with a hug and kiss.
"Umm, strange and getting stranger by the minute. What's up with you?"
"What? I can't make my beautiful girlfriend a nice home-cooked meal?" Nolan ushers me into the dining room and I discover that he's set the table with plates and candles. He's cooked beef roast, glazed carrots, and mashed potatoes. No wonder the smell was heavenly to me. It's my favorite!
"Well, I mean you can. I'm just not quite sure you ever have." I give him a strange look. He has to be up to something.
"Oh, whatever. I've cooked you plenty of nice meals. How do you think I know this is your favorite?"
"We’ve been together for two years, Nolan. I'd like to think you know me pretty well at this point."
"Fair enough. Come. Let’s sit down before it gets cold."
Giving in to his request, I take my seat and enjoy the delicious meal he's prepared. Of all the things I could say about Nolan, cooking is one of his better qualities. One that might make up for his lack thereof physically being here.
"So, you know how you're always on my case about not being physically present in your life?" Nolan lets out after we finish eating.
"Nolan... Let's not go there tonight, please?" I clear my dishes from the table and carry them to the sink.
"I'm not saying this to argue with you, Babe." Nolan takes my wet hands from the sink and whirls me towards him. "I finally did it, Blaire! I got vacation time from work for next week! How do you feel about the Bahamas?"
"Wait, what?" My jaw drops. I've only been asking him to take a vacation for over a year.
"I know I've been so busy with work I've neglected us, but I want to try and fix that. If you'll let me. What do you say?"
"Nolan, you should’ve asked me about this first. I was on the verge of losing my job and thankfully got offered a new assignment to save my ass!"
Nolan releases my hands. "You were losing your job? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I did! There's more than just physically being here, Nolan. You also have to be here when I try to talk to you. Your head is always stuck in a book grading papers. I can't remember the last time we had a conversation like this with so many words spoken out loud."
"I can't. I have a ton of research I need to do. My new assignment is to find this mysterious author in Alaska. I need to figure out exactly where I'm going and get on the next flight out."
"Oh..." Nolan says as his head hangs in defeat.
"I'm sorry, but my job means everything to me, Nolan. I can't just give up on something that matters to me because you finally decided to take the vacation I've been begging you to take for over a year."
"You're right. I'm sorry. It was a stupid idea not to talk to you about it first." He sulks and saunters back into the dining room and finishes cleaning up the table.
Of course, he had to pull out the sweet gesture card at a time like this. I'm a compassionate person. I can't help but feel bad even though I wouldn't if he’d made me a priority in the first place.
Stepping back into the dining room, I let my weak heart take the reins. "Maybe I'll be back in time to go to the Bahamas. I'm not exactly sure how things will go, but I can try my best."
"That's okay. That's all I ask." Nolan walks up to me and pulls me into him. His lips find mine sharing a sweet kiss.
Nolan doesn't exactly make me feel the butterflies I once felt when his skin met mine, but I care about him.
"Thank you for dinner. It was delicious,” I let out, offering him a smile.
"You're welcome. I love you, Blaire."
"I love you too."
Spending the next hour making love, I realize I used to enjoy our sessions and completely lose my thoughts altogether, but things seem different lately. I don't even know if I mean those three little words that rolled off my tongue earlier. Is it possible? Can you think you're in love with someone, say the words, and a few years later realize you might not have meant them?
My head’s a mess.
All I know for sure is that I need to find Hutton Clarke. Maybe I'll go back to feeling like myself once my job is more secure.
Nome, Alaska, here I come!