I looked out the window, momentarily ignoring my friend. I loved people watching, creepy as it sounds, when out and about I just loved to take a few minutes and wonder what all those people – so in a rush to get somewhere else, were thinking, what they were feeling, and just where oh where were they going? Maybe it was because I was standing still, or maybe it was because I was spinning so fast I didn’t even notice the moment anymore.
“I told you I’m ignoring it, Pam.”
“Sookie it’s your thirtieth birthday, you have to mark it somehow!”
“Well, In my head I am thirty, so why bother?”
Hell, some days I felt fifty.
“Yeah I know you’ve been saying you’re thirty since you turned twenty nine for heaven sakes, don’t get me started on how ridiculous that is!”
“It’s not ridiculous it just is what it is. I’m old, let’s move on,” I smiled stuffing my face with my salad. We’d met for brunch on Sunday, as we always did at Pam’s favourite upper west eatery.
“Number one, no you’re not, and number two, why would you deprive me a reason to throw a party? We could have it at your place even! Think of the view, think of the envy of your friends, think of the drinks sponsorships we could get for it if we invite the ma-”
“Pam, it’s six months away, come on now, be serious.”
“I am serious, you know I never joke about parties. I just think it’s something to consider, it’s coinciding with the launch of a new issue too, you could be the cover girl on your own magazine.”
“I’m not Oprah.”
“No, you’re hotter, and girls envy you, that shit sells, believe me. Please just promise me you’ll think about it?”
I sighed, I knew she wasn’t going to let it go, so I gave in.
“I’ll think about it. Think, not do anything about it. Okay?”
I hated my birthdays, they were always a disappointment, and frankly after twenty-one who wants to be reminded in massive detail that they’re getting older, and are, of course, still alone.
“So, sussed Northman out yet?” She asked.
“He seems fine, I mean I did a quick background check on him, and nothing out of the ordinary came up, he went to University for what he told me he did, all numbers and math-gasms. Really, there isn’t a hint that he could possibly be from another firm, and besides… Lafayette likes him, so I trust his judgement. All I ask of him now is that he does the job I’m paying him to do, and so far… there haven’t been that many fuck ups,” I shrugged.
“Are you getting soft in your old age?”
“No, like I said before I just have more to worry about right now that my assistant and his random life. I’m sure he lives in some untidy, hipster apartment with his hemp eating girlfriend, who is allergic to an iron and possibly a washing machine, and good for him.”
I looked up and Pam was looking me, open mouthed.
“What?” I asked.
“I can’t believe I’m even going to think this never mind say it, but, Sookie, do you… have a crush on your assistant?”
“What? No! Jesus, Pam, just because I’m not ranting about how much he sucks at his job, doesn’t mean I want to jump him. He’s just not my type at all.”
“Yes, really, now can we stop being ridiculous? Please? I barely know him, and he definitely doesn’t know me, and that’s how its going to stay, he’s an employee, not a crush.”
She held her hands up in defence, but I hated the smug look on her face joining it.
“You know the meeting with your Grandmother is coming in next month…”
As if I needed reminding, I’d been freaking out about it for weeks.
“Yes, I know, I’m dreading it.”
“Gran loves you, you have nothing to worry about.”
“I have no doubt she loves me, it’s just…”
“You don’t get why she picked Jason as President over you? And you worry she’ll make him CEO when she steps down?”
“Something like that.”
“No one else understands it either, I mean you do all the work, you do all the worrying and all the sleepless nights and flights to Europe, pressing the flesh, and what does he do? Fucks off to God knows where with his hillbilly wife, and leaves you to it, and he still gets all the fucking credit.”
“I love you…” I smiled.
“Hey, you need me. I say what you can’t say, and that’s saying something because honey you ain’t no wallflower,” she smiled.
“I know, I just… she wants to see everything from the last year, all my work Pam, all the changes, and all the future plans. I really just feel like throwing in the towel. Because I know she’s just going to judge it all to shit.”
She nodded, “you can’t though, you’re made for this, and this is made for you. She’d be insane to pass you over for this promotion Sookie, she really would, you’re an amazing hard ass, and that’s what her business needs. Jesus you took her name, and her bank account GLOBAL, if I were her I’d be kissing your freshly manicured feet.”
I wasn’t so sure though. Yes I busted my ass for the business, and yes my personal life suffered because of it, but, I still didn’t fully understand why she’d passed me over. I was the OBVIOUS choice, and yet she choose Jason, with me playing second fiddle. Yes it bothered me, and yes I tried to feel like it didn’t but in reality, I was somewhat heartbroken that for whatever her reason, I wasn’t good enough in my Grandmother’s eyes to run her business – at least in official name. Was I just her assistant, like Eric was mine? Was I just tiding it over for her to hand to Jason and Crystal completely? The board of members, as small as they were, they existed and they respected me, they answered to me, not to Jason. I feared what might happen if this meeting went badly and Jason was named CEO.
“Where are the January files? Jesus, Eric can’t you just go get them instead of looking at me like I just slapped you. Am I dealing with a man, or a freakin’ toddler.”
“I’m sorry but the other files weren’t where you said they’d be, there was February to August so I brought those…”
I sighed. Great. It was in storage.
“You seem…extra stressed,” he commented, and I just glared.
“Really, Eric? Really? What gave it away?”
He just smiled, “oh you know, the hasher than normal tone, the frizzled pacing, the fact that your hem of your slip is showing…”
I looked down and sure enough the silk underskirt for under my skirt was showing. I straightened myself out and went behind my desk again.
“Stop looking at me, and go get those files. Don’t come back here until you find them,” I said, harshly.
He just nodded.
“Yes, Miss Stackhouse,” in a tone that was nothing if not mocking.
Why didn’t I fire him again?
It was obvious to anyone with a good set of working eyes, and ears that Sookie was stressed to the point of insanity. For one, her normally impeccable office was in a mess, there were files, folders, and random books laying around where normally there was just pristine white surfaces and shining sophistication. Then there was Sookie herself, gone was the ice-bitch and in her place was a frazzled, pacing, and wrinkled (of all things!) woman on the brink. It was fascinating, since all I knew was her Grandmother was coming at some point to ‘check in’, and apparently this checking in made Sookie sick with worry, not that she’d ever actually admit it, but she didn’t have to, since it was written all over her face.
I was in the storage area slash library for about twenty minutes when my cell rang.
I checked the time and it was just after three, so she should have been fine with Amelia.
“What’s up, hon?” I asked.
“I hurted my arm,” was all she said, with a slight sniffle.
“How hurt? What happened are you okay?”
With that Amelia came on the line, “Eric?”
“Yeah it’s me.”
“Hi, listen don’t worry about it, she had a fall off the swings, she was more shocked than she was hurt, but she’s fine now. Nothing a ‘Hello Kitty’ bandage couldn’t fix.”
I breathed a sigh of realief.
“Thank God. I’m sorry Ames.”
“Seriously, don’t worry about it, Eric I swear she’s fine she just wanted to call and tell you, so I’ll pass the phone back to her now, okay?”
“Okay, thanks again.”
“Welcome,” she said and I heard Emily again.
“It hurt though, Eric.”
“I know it did, but were you a brave girl?”
“I only cried a little bit.”
“Well! See! That’s my brave girl. Such a good sister,” I said and I heard her giggle. I looked through the doors and no one else was down here, at least that was one good thing about storage in the basement, hardly anyone ever went down there.
“What are you laughing at?”
“You,” I heard her smile and it made me smile too.
“How about when I get home we just veg out and watch some cartoons? We can go to the movies tomorrow, too if you’d like.”
“I’d like. Can Taylor come too?”
“Sure. Why not. I got to go now sweetie, but I’ll see you tonight though…Okay?”
“Sure! I’ll be good for Amelia okay so don’t say it.”
I laughed, she knew me well.
“Okay, cool. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Just at that I turned around and saw Sookie standing there, in the doorway, looking pissed off… well… more pissed than usual.
“Northman, believe it or not, I don’t pay you to stand down here making personal calls, you’re here to work for me, I’d appreciate it, if you did that.”
Fuming, that’s what she was.
“I’m sorry, it was an emergency I -”
“I really don’t care to hear about how needy people needed your reassurance during working hours, I’m sure your…whatever she was, is just fine without you until five. Can I have the files?” She snapped.
I handed her over the files. And she snapped them too, out of my hands, before she turned on her red soled high heels and walked to the elevators.
After that I was beginning to note that when Sookie was pissed she was best left alone, otherwise it was hell to pay. So, I made excuses and decided to hang out with Lafayette in the wardrobe department for a while, under the assumption that I was copying files and organizing vintage fabric samples. What I was doing was drinking coffee and bitching, while we half heartedly did those things.
“And little sister is okay?”
“Yeah she’s fine, thank God, but I guess Sookie got the ass end of the conversation and realized it wasn’t business related and got pissed off at me, again,” I rolled my eyes, it really was far too easy to wind her up. And, after six weeks I’d thought I’d got a handle on her moods, and what not to do as opposed to what TO do. But, every time I thought I had it down, she switched up the game on me again.
“I mean I know she’s under stress but you know what she needs to …”
“Get under someone, that’s what,” Lafayette interjected with a grin.
“She’s not dating?”
“Boy please, you’ve seen her schedule, does it sound like she has time to fuck? No, girl hasn’t been laid right in a looong time. It’s sad too because she’s hot. I mean, she’s really not my type,” he jerked his brows, “but you know I still appreciate beauty and those breasts and those lips and all up in between and down below… well, it’s all good. And there have been men, but none that last, none that can keep up with her – so I’m told, now take that how you like…” he smiled, but it quickly dissipated, “But, she loves her work more than the laying, so we get up tight Sookie… like I said, it’s sad.”
I nodded, I mean I might have been celibate against my wishes – circumstances were sort of an issue, but I guess hers were too. Not that she’d have to silently fuck on her sofa, but, still. She was hot, if I didn’t imagine her yelling at me, she’d make the most excellent cameos in sex dreams. But, as it stood there were mostly nightmares’ about getting her coffee wrong.
“I’ve tried man, I really have. I do shit on time, before it’s due even, all calls are returned, all messages are passed on, samples are received, press releases are sent, appointments are made. I’m doing my job, and I’m doing it well, and yet…”
“Still can’t crack her, huh?”
“No, I mean I don’t want to crack her, I’d just like the ice to melt… a little, and sometimes I think it has, but then like today it’s like she flips a goddamn switch and it’s right back to day one.”
I sighed, finishing off my coffee and dragging my feet off the table. In the weeks I’d been there, Lafayette was really the only friendly member of staff, everyone else seemed to avoid me. I didn’t know why, and I wasn’t sure my ego could really take it. But, I asked him anyway.
“Dude, at the risk of sounding like my little sister… um, why doesn’t anyone else here talk to me?”
With that he burst out laughing loud and clear.
“Oh, sweetheart, you still don’t have a clue, do you?”
“Well look at you, baby, and look at say… Paul from down the hall, or Marie, or Sophie, or me…for example.”
“You’re all people, same as me.” I defended and he nodded.
“Yes we is. But, we’re also much better dressed than you, and in case you hadn’t noticed sweetheart, appearance is everything in this business. It matters, it’s not what’s in the inside that counts, forget everything your Mamma taught you. To be accepted in this place, is to conform, but conform while pretending it’s new and fresh and creative. You see? Take the magazine for example. Every damn Spring it’s all about florals, and banishing the winter blues, and springing into summer, losing that winter weight, makeover, the new you, better smaller, stronger, hotter. It’s always about improvement.”
“And I don’t improve?”
“No, Eric… you don’t care.”
“You don’t give a shit. You’re here to do a job so you can live your life, the others are here because their job is their life. Like Sookie.”
“That’s not right, that’s not how I want to be just so they’ll talk to me.”
“Hey I get it, believe me. I love my job, but I love my boyfriend more, and I love my dogs, and my Mexican food, I feel art in everything and to be artistic – truly like these idiots all believe they are – we have to embrace life. But how can they do that eating a salad and living on nothing but water and caffeine? No, I like to be outside in the sunshine, with one that I love, preferably with a donut in hand,” he laughed.
“And they don’t?”
“Oh they do, they just choose to prioritize work as number one, for me work is one point one. It’s there but it won’t own me.”
“So what does that mean for getting Sookie to …” not so much like me, but respect me. That’s what I craved more than her approval.
“For you work is on a ten when for her to give a fuck about you? You have to give a fuck about her life’s work, you hear me?”
“So… I try?”
“You try, maybe buy an iron… and a grown up pair of shoes…for starters.”
He waved dramatically, before he left the room, swatches in hand.
I stood in front of the full length mirror and took in my appearance. I was me, I dressed how I’d always dressed. I saw nothing wrong with it. My black matched! That in itself was a miracle. And who didn’t love Vans? They were comfortable! I guess I did need a hair cut… it had gotten a little scruffy and long, and I could shave a little closer I guess.
I shrugged. I’d worry about that later, I had work to do. I grabbed my samples and got back to my desk.
I needed to calm down, I knew that. I was losing it. We had an issue going to press, we had meetings booked all week, and I had to get the company organized into little piles of information for my Gran to dissect. Ugh. I just wanted to sleep, for a hundred years, that’s how worn down it was making me. I needed a boost of some kind, I needed a distraction.
Maybe Pam was right, maybe I needed to just get laid?
I knew a lot guys, a lot of models, none of them with very firm morals, but extra firm six packs. It could have been something that I could have organized really easily, and yet for a long time I hadn’t. I resisted the urge to … quell the urge. And why? Stupid romantic notions of love, that’s why. I’d done the fuck buddy thing with Quinn, and it had worked out just fine. Before him there were only a small handful of meaningless sexual encounters, and two other serious relationships. Both ending in disaster when they realized I wasn’t going to change, when I wasn’t going to give up my work so I could massage their fragile egos, unable to stand a woman earning more, being more, and not apologizing for it either. Weak, that’s what they were. And I hated weak. I hated it in others and more importantly I loathed it in myself. And I sort of viewed love as weak. The emotional overload of depending on another person for emotional validation… it scared the shit out of me, to be honest. So I pushed people away, easily, my job was an amazing weapon for that, and I just think that part of my worry about not impressing Gran, not getting what I worked so hard for… was that, at the end of the day, I’d be left with nothing.
Because really, without my job, I had nothing.
And that was what I was worried about losing, my place. I had my place I knew it, I loved it and I worked it, but without it? What became of me?
I shuddered to myself and side eyed Eric.
He was in my line of fire and sadly for him that meant he got the brunt of my bitching. It wasn’t his or anyone else’s fault, really, I just needed an outlet for my pent up… well, pent up everything.
He was tall, that much was obvious, and I guess in the right lighting he could have pulled off the geek chic, complicated vibe from the models of the nineties, but as it stood he was just annoying me. So I ignored his tallness and got the steps to reach up three feet to grab a book on one of my higher shelves.
A little unsteady on my feet, my new Loubies were six and a half inches after all. The steps creaked and I ignored the wobble, and I reached, and I reached again. Silently cursing being short, and in giant heels as I did so, because before I knew it, the damn steps crumbled underneath me, leaving me clinging on to the large bookshelves.
“Ahh!” I screamed and the next thing I felt were hands… hands… on my ass.
“Hang on! Jesus!” He said.
“Get your hands off my ass!” I demanded and he complied right away, leaving me hanging again.
“OKAYFINEHANDSONASSHANDSONASS!” I was panicking, it was good eight foot drop if he let go, it was a sprained ankle at least.
“Grab the steps over again!” I said and he grunted.
“I can’t if I let you go you fall, look just let go, let me catch you. You’re not a heavy woman I promise, so I won’t drop you.”
Still I clung, chipping my new manicure in the process.
“Sookie, please, let go.”
I didn’t want to look at him, not wanting to admit that I was giving in.
“You won’t, I’ve got you, I promise.”
I exhaled, I really couldn’t hold my grip much longer, so I gave in, let go and landed in his arms.
“You’re stronger than you look,” I said as he walked us past my desk to the middle of the floor, me still very much bridal style, in his arms.
“You can put me down now…” I said, softer than before, I didn’t know why, it just wasn’t a moment for shouting.
He let me down extremely gently, almost as if he was scared to break me.
“You’re a lot lighter than you look,” he smirked.
“You calling me fat?”
He grinned. Sometimes I didn’t get him, he was a bumbling, unsteady, wrinkled fool one minute, and the next it was as if a switch flipped and he became this confident, cocky, flirt. It was all in his eyes. It freaked me out a little. I didn’t want to notice it, and I certainly didn’t want to like it.
“Just because I’m not a zero doesn’t mean I’m fat,” I countered.
“I know, I was kidding Sookie, bad joke to break the ice… or diffuse the awkward…” he said looking at his feet and stuffing his hands in his pockets uneasily, “considering I had my hands on your butt a few seconds ago…”
With that of course Pam walked in, stopping dead in her tracks and raising a brow at me.
“So!” She said with far too much glee in her voice for my liking, “what’s going on in here today?”
“Nothing,” Eric and I said in unison, causing us to look at each other strangely.
“Run along, Eric, Sookie and I have to talk,” she said, earning her a dirty look from Eric, and if I was honest, from me too.
When he’d left, I closed the door and put the shields up over the office.
“Pam, just for the record I’m the boss, and I’m the one that gets to verbally abuse the staff, not you.”
She looked somewhat taken aback, but sat down anyway.
“Jesus, it was a joke, he’s a big boy I’m sure he can handle it.”
I just sighed, I really wasn’t in the mood for her today.
“What did you want?”
Her eyes went wide, “well, someone got out of the wrong end of the bitch bed today… I wanted to discuss the interview we have coming up for the cover. Kerr’s people called it’s a go for next week, I’ll need help on it though since Zola and Andrea are out ‘sick’,” she air quoted.
“Fine take Bella and Celine… they should be free on Wednesday, the styling for the new campaign wraps then.”
Pam nodded jotting it down.
“Pull the looks from Lanvin for Kerr, and some Gucci too,” I said, since it was a set up for our accessories line, I didn’t want to over crowd it.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Why was Eric’s hands on your ass?”
I fought my blush, but I answered anyway, the last thing I needed was any unnecessary rumours.
“I thought I could reach the files,” I nodded to the top shelves, almost hitting the damn roof, “but, I over estimated and I almost fell… Eric caught me, that’s all. Nothing so exciting like I know is going on in your head right now.”
“Hey, I never said anything.”
“You didn’t have to, the look said it all.”
Mountains of paper work later, I finally took a break to eat. Slipping off my shoes and putting my feet up, I turned to my floor to ceiling windows to enjoy my view of New York. Looking out at it’s vastness, the busy hustle below, it make me exhale loudly and just attempt to calm myself down. Food helped. Food always helped. I understood why the girls in the office, and in the industry were so afraid of it. With great power, came great responsibility an all that, and food had great power – if you let it take you over. And those girls did, their fear of being ‘fat’ drove them to a salad and water for a day, living on cigarettes and gum, caffeine and fresh air. It freaked me out to watch them disintegrate before my eyes like they did sometimes, but there was nothing I could say, I couldn’t order them to eat, but I did encourage healthy living. Eating proper meals, having treat days, and working out. Though I ran around so much for work, running wasn’t something I had to do, but I did anyway, working out cleared my head, it gave me focus when things would get fucked up, I didn’t freakin’ starve myself in the hopes that that would solve all my problems.
Speaking of starving, Sophie walked into my office, with her usual swagger on her too-high-heels.
“Miss Stackhouse these came for you while Eric was at lunch,” she said, rolling her eyes at his name.
“Good. Can you get me Alan on the phone please?”
“Eric is back now…”
“I asked you,” I glared and she stepped back.
“Of course, Miss Stackhouse.”
Yeah Sophie really wasn’t in the first name club, she wasn’t in any club, she only got the job because Jason had fucked her and decided she was cool to have around. Of course that was before he met the ‘love’ of his ‘life’ in Crystal, and yet I was still stuck with her ass because she’d never given me a reason to actually fire her. I watched her exit as Eric entered and she just looked at him with pure distain.
“What’s her problem?” I asked him, and he just sighed before he sat down.
“All the women here seem so angry…”
I just raised a brow.
“Well you’re okay, your anger…I’m used to and I know why you are, you’re stressed, but those women? I don’t get it? Sophie sits and gives herself a damn manicure all day, the Lisa girl just plays on her iPad and it’s so not work because she’s laughing and once I saw her watching TV on it… and the rest of them, I don’t know what it is but it’s like I’m something they stepped in, and I’ve been nothing but nice. Maybe I should feed them?”
He mused, and I laughed, because really that’s probably all it was. They were so hungry they were angry. They were h-angry.
“Maybe. But you know, not everyone is going to be nice, even if you’re nice to them, some people…”
“Are just bitches?”
“Sometimes, but you know what they say…”
“No, what do they say…?”
“Bitches get stuff done,” I smiled.
“Wait, isn’t bitch…the new black?” He said and I smiled again, he got it.
“Tina Fey fan?”
“Eh I do love her and Amy together…” He said.
“What do you know, we do have something in common after all.”