Ashley was in no shape to party, so I volunteered to take her back to my apartment and put her to bed. Nina offered to come as well, but Brad was there and he seemed really into her knee highs, and I figured at least one of us should get some that night.
Ashley wasn't making any sense in the cab. I kept asking her what happened, why Tom broke up with her, and all she kept saying was that I didn't understand. That I was so lucky, and I didn't understand. "What don't I understand?" I demanded. My good Samaritan patience was wearing thin.
"You just don't," she sniffled.
I got her upstairs and in my bed and then collapsed on my couch with a bowl of Halloween candy and a glass of wine. So my night wasn't a total bust.
In the morning, I finally got the whole story: Tom's sister found out about their 'incident' (I visibly gulped when Ashley told me this). Tom thought he could trust Ashley to keep their private business private, but clearly she was too immature to do that. So he ended it.
I'd been meaning to tell Ashley about my conversation with Isabel, but she hadn't responded to any of my texts after the party. I could have called, I guess, pushed a little harder. But I did try.
"Okay," I said, "first of all, you are not immature for telling people what happened. You were smart. Victims of domestic violence are usually—"
"Jesus, enough with the domestic violence crap," Ashley groaned. She was sitting on my couch, her legs tucked underneath her and a big bottle of water balanced in her lap. "I was not a 'victim' of 'domestic violence'. We had an argument that got a little heated. I pushed him first—does that make Tom a victim?"
"Okay, Ash," I said, "I have to tell you something and you're not going to like it." I took her through my conversation with Tom's sister. When I finished, Ashley laughed softly and shook her head.
"I knew you'd find a way to involve yourself in this," Ashley said. "You couldn't have just removed yourself from the situation, like Nina. You had to stay and insert yourself because you can't stand when people don't do things exactly the way you think they should be done."
"Are you fucking kidding me?" I said. "Nina bailed on you and I stood by your side—I was your only freaking friend at your engagement party, and I blew off my plans last night to take you home—and I'm the one you're mad at?"
"It's like you're incapable of doing nice things out of the goodness of your heart. You do them so you can hold them over my head!" Ashley said.
I took a deep breath. "Seriously, Ash? You may not like how I handled things, but I handled it the best I could. Sorry it wasn't good enough for you." I shook my head. "I think you should go."
Ashley's eyes welled up with tears. "Oh my God, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm such an idiot." She buried her head in her hands and her shoulders started to shake. We just sat there in silence for a long time. Ashley is one of my oldest friends, and we've been through a lot together, but sometimes I just don't know how much more this friendship can weather. As much as it pains me to say it, Ashley becomes more like her mother every day. Just a difficult person to be around. Someone who doesn't believe it's possible to really be happy. Someone who is always so suspicious of people and their motives. I'm no saint, but God that can wear on you.
So that was the rest of my weekend. Fun times! And I was so nervous to meet my new boss on Monday that I barely slept on Sunday night. I got in at my usual time, 830AM, about half an hour before everyone else. Right away, I noticed the light underneath William—I mean Frank's—door. Evidently, my new boss is an early bird too.
I dropped my things by my desk and pinched my shoulder blades together. First impressions are everything and good posture is one way to make a good one (Thanks for that lesson, Mom!). Plus, as a short person, it gives the illusion of another inch or two.
I knocked on the door and Frank called me inside. "Hi, Frank?" I said. "I'm Josie."
Frank was sitting at his computer and he stopped typing to give me a look like, who are you and what are you doing in here?
"Your assistant," I said.
"Right," he said. "Hi."
Frank was a good ten years older and fifty pounds slimmer than William. He had stark white hair, delicate looking glasses, and he was wearing a bow tie my Mom would have described as 'spiffy-looking'. He was also not a fan of a smile or speaking, apparently.
"So I just thought I would introduce myself since we'll be working together," I added, lamely. "Is there anything I should get started on today?"
Frank went back to typing. "Not right now," he said so quietly I almost didn't hear him.
Alrighty then! I stuck my tail between my legs and headed back to my desk.
Around 11, Frank finally emerged from his office and asked me to come and talk to him.
"So the first thing you should know about me is that I don't like to be disturbed in the morning, because that's when I'm in my flow," Frank said.
"Noted!" I said.
"The second thing you should know about me is that I don't do email," Frank said.
"Okay," I said. "How do you...I mean, how should I...I mean, how do you communicate with your assistants?"
"Exactly how mankind has been doing for millions of years and how we're doing right now," Frank said. "We talk."
I nodded. "Okay. I mean, that sounds great actually."
"Tell me about you," Frank said. I realized I still hadn't seen him smile yet.
"What do you mean?'
"I mean, what are your hobbies? Where are you from? What's your favorite book?"
"Um, I'm from New Jersey," I said, feeling like I was on the worst first date in the world. "And, I like to run. And read and write."
"Who are you favorite authors?" Frank asked.
"Um, I've loved Gillian Flynn since before she was Gillian Flynn. Her first book is still my favorite." Frank grimaced, so I quickly added, "but I also love, like, Donna Tartt, Jeffrey Eugenides," the grimace was slowly disappearing from Frank's face so I kept going, "and Louise Erdrich and Elizabeth Strout. Oh, and Alice Munro."
"Isn't it wonderful that she finally won?" Frank said, referring to her recent Nobel Prize get.
I nodded feverishly. "It is." I once read a tip in an advice book written by a body language expert that Frank would certainly turn his nose up at, and it said that mimicking others either by copying their mannerisms or language is one way to get them to like you. "Really wonderful," I added.
"So here's my question," Frank said, "it seems like you are a well-read young lady. So why," Frank spun in his chair and picked up a pile of manuscripts William hadn't taken with him, "are you pushing this crap." His desk shook as he slammed the pile down in front of him.
"Um, it's cheap. And fast. And people buy them," I said.
"You know what I think?" Frank said. "I think people want good, quality books. I don't want to read something by some downmarket blogger who thinks she's Lauren Conrad. I don't even want to read anything by Lauren Conrad." He snickered. "Not like she actually writes herself. I want to read about Michael Douglas's triumph with cancer, or Lance Armstrong's fall from grace, in his own words. Quality, interesting stuff."
"I mean, I'd love to read that," I said.
"So why haven't you gone after those people?"
Because William holds the complete opposite viewpoint that you do. He doesn't think people want quality. He thinks they want quantity, the fluffier and easier to digest the better. "That just wasn't the direction I was told to take," I said, trying to be diplomatic.
"What if that's the direction I want you to take?" Frank said.
"I'm game," I said.
Frank smiled for the first time since I'd met him. "Good."
Frank reminded me of Megan—serious, committed to maintaining the integrity of the book industry. I don't know if I've been drinking the William kool-aid for too long, or if this is what I genuinely believe, but it seems like a lost cause to me. A noble one, and one I'd prefer to pursue over what I was doing with William if money weren't an issue. Of course I'd prefer to work with more elevated writers, truly accomplished people who are talented and have great stories to tell, over the 'writers' I was currently working with. Every single one of those bloggers and YouTube personalities needs a ghost writer, and it's a freaking joke. But when it comes down to what sells and what doesn't, a quality book by a reputable writer just doesn't sell as well as an easy read. Not only that, but it takes longer to produce, and it costs more money to produce. It may be what I prefer to read in my downtime, but if I ever want to make money in this industry, it seemed like the only way to do that was to do it William's way. William was a business man, whereas people like Frank and Megan? They're crusaders. They're in it because they're passionate about what they do. I'd love to be able to be passionate about what I do and pay New York City rent, but it doesn't always pan out that way.
When I met William for dinner a few nights later, he was on me like Amanda Bynes on Drake about what direction Frank was taking the company in. It was uncomfortable—I need to play both sides of this, and I don't want to alienate William or betray Frank's confidence, since he is my boss now.
"He wants to go more upmarket," I said. "He wants to reclaim the era of the writer. Back before the Internet was so ubiquitous and not everyone could be a writer."
William snorted. "How idealistic." He pointed his fork at me. It was shiny with the grease from his steak. We were at the Bobby Van's in Midtown, and the entire staff knew William by name. "I can't wait to see this yo-yo crash and burn."
I shrugged. "Maybe people are fatigued by all the crap out there. Maybe this works."
William laughed. "He's gotten to you already. Listen, there is always something to be learned from a new boss. Even if you hate him and you don't agree with the way he handles his business at all." He went back to sawing his fillet. "So take what you can from him. When I make a move, you know my door is always open for you. But," he shrugged, "maybe you decide not to walk through it."
He was testing me. "Of course I want to go with you wherever you end up," I reaffirmed.
William grinned. His teeth were purple from the wine. "Good."
After dinner, I decided to walk home. Halfway there, Richard, of all people, texted me. 'I'm in your hood. Come to this Halloween party I'm at.'
'I don't have a costume,' I wrote.
'Of course you do, you're a dick tease,' he said, followed by a smiley face emoticon.
'You're such an asshole,' I wrote back. 'Where?'
The bar was three blocks from my apartment, so I decided to stop by for a drink. I hadn't seen Richard since that night in my apartment, when I'd thrown that Social Media viewing party. It had only been for a few minutes because he had a date, and that had been weeks ago.
I showed my ID to the bouncer at the door, who was dressed as a SWAT team member. The bar was crowded and smelled like boy. I chalked it up to all of the guys, overheated and sweating in their costumes.
I finally spotted Richard. He was dressed as Ron Burgundy from Anchorman. It was actually a great costume for him because he's so tall and lanky. I was glad to see he'd put on a little weight since the last time we saw each other. He'd been looking a little gaunt.
"Josie!" Richard said, and waved me over.
"You look awesome," I said.
"Well," Richard leaned in close, "I am kind of a big deal."
"Oh and meet my co-anchor, Veronica Corningstone." Richard gestured to a petite blond, who was dressed up as the Christina Applegate character.
"I'm Sam," she said, and extended her hand.
"Josie," I said.
Sam turned to Richard. "Babe, I'm getting a drink. You want anything?"
"Scotch!" Richard said.
"Right," she said. "You?"
"Um, whatever you're having," I said.
"Be right back!" Sam turned on her heel and practically skipped off.
"She's cute!" I said to Richard.
"I'm really happy," Richard beamed. "I wanted you to meet her. Your approval means a lot to me."
I searched his face for any sign that he might be putting it on, but he appeared totally earnest. "I'm happy for you," I said, and I meant it.
I only stayed for a little bit. Frankly, it wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world to play third wheel to a couple still in their honeymoon stage. I am happy for Richard, but my gag reflex operates on another level than my emotional compass.
On my short walk home, I called Nina to tell her about Richard and his rapid fire 180. She didn't pick up, so I ended the call and moved on to Ashley. Then I remembered, Ashley and I weren't exactly speaking right now. It had been four days since she'd left my apartment, and I hadn't heard from her since. I stared at her name on my phone a little longer, contemplating calling her anyway. Then I stuffed my phone back in my purse. I was tired of chasing after Ashley. Tired of her accusations that I'm the bad friend. If we were going to talk again, she had to come to me.