I hung up with Nance and texted Nina back, Who is the girl?
Don't know. But I've seen Sam on Facebook and it is not Sam. And it certainly isn't his sister unless she's some kind of Angelina Jolie sicko.
I stared at my phone in my lap, just processing the news. The idea of Richard kissing another girl made me feel nauseous. Not because I wanted to be her, but because I thought Richard was better than that. It never bothered me that Richard played around in the past—yes, it kept me from taking him seriously when he told me how he felt over the summer, but there's nothing wrong with living it up when you're single. But going out on a date with another girl after professing your love for your girlfriend—that takes planning. It's premeditated. Calculated. That's what was making me feel sick. It was like the guy I was starting to have feelings for wasn't the guy I thought I knew.
Of course I was dying to call him on it, to hear what he had to say for himself, but it would be some stage five psycho behavior to text Richard right that second and confront him about something that wasn't even any of my business. No, I had to play this right, which meant going home, getting into bed, and sleeping on it. Between my dinner with William and this news about Richard, my brain had been overloaded with information over the last few hours. I needed to just sit and marinate on everything before doing anything—if I did anything at all.
The next morning, someone from CWA's HR emailed me about setting up an interview. She was nice enough to give me the earliest time time she had, which was still later than when I get in to work, but could easily be explained away by a 'lady's doctor's appointment'. Frank wouldn't touch that. Being a girl is convenient sometimes.
I was sitting in the sprawling marble lobby, waiting for Molly, the HR rep, when the doors opened and a glamorous woman flanked by two slick men in suits swept through the room. She was quickly ushered back to the office, but not so quickly that I didn't catch a glimpse of her face.
There was an older gentleman (some men just look like gentlemen and scholars, I don't know how else to explain it) waiting with me in the lobby, and he turned to me. "Was that Catherine Zeta Jones?"
"Pretty sure it was."
He laughed. "How cool."
A few minutes later, this gangly hipster kid appeared at reception. He approached me, timidly, squinting at me more intensely with every step. He was still a few feet away when he squeaked, "Catherine?"
I did that thing where you look to your left and right, to see if the person is speaking to you or someone else. He was definitely speaking to me. I pointed at myself. "No, Josie."
"Oh!" He covered his mouth. "Sorry, I don't have my glasses on and the last time I saw her she had blond hair." He looked me over again. "Yeah, wow, you're definitely not her. I'm so sorry about that."
"It's fine," I snapped. We get it, buddy, you mistook me for a posh movie star because of the color of my hair and then you saw my face and realized what a huge mistake that was.
"I really need to find my glasses," the guy muttered, one final insult, as he disappeared down the hallway again.
"That was hysterical!" My lobby neighbor laughed, slapping his knees giddily. "That kid must have really bad eyes or something. He actually thought you were"—
"I get it."
I stood. Molly was standing where my vision impaired friend just had been, holding the door to the office open. "Come on back."
We chit-chatted for a little bit—I'd done my homework and raved about what a coup it was that the company had recently poached three major talent agents from another top agency. "It wasn't that hard to convince them to come over," Molly said. "We are CWA." Well, excuuuuse me.
Molly went on to describe CWA's 'unique' company culture. "This agency was founded in the 80s by three agents, all rising stars at the most prestigious agency in the country—well, at the time." Molly smiled, wistfully. Like what she was about to tell me was one of her fondest memories even though she must have been about ten years old at the time. "They picked up in the middle of the night and brought all their clients with them. And everyone said they would fail because they didn't have any financial backing. But they didn't fail."
"No," I said, reverently, "they definitely didn't."
"Within ten years, they had crushed their competition." Molly made a fist and bared her teeth. I could tell she wanted me to laugh, so I did. "And you know how they did that?"
I scooted to the edge of my seat, like I was so enrapt in her story I couldn't stand it. "How?"
"They followed one simple rule, and it is a rule that this entire company follows today."
Okay, now I really was intrigued. "What is it?"
"Be good to each other and good things will happen."
Off my impressed look, she continued, "We also believe that you should never call out before you call in. The goal at CWA is to package our clients, to make them as successful in as many mediums as possible. So even though, say, Katy Perry's point agent is in music, he will work with our TV department when she wants to do TV, and the literary department when she wants to write a book. Before any deal is made, before any deal is even discussed with the outside world, you place a call to any of your colleagues who may be involved. We don't go out, until we're all in."
"Strength in numbers," I said.
Molly beamed. "Exactly. When you join this company, you are not just joining a company. You are joining a family." She smiled. "A talented, driven, innovative family. I know it sounds like a cult or something, but there is truly nowhere else you want to work. If you come here, and you put your mind to it, we have the tools to make you more successful and fulfilled than you ever dreamed of."
Molly let that last sentence hang in the air. I made a big show of turning it over in my mind, giving it great consideration.
"So!" Molly barked, abruptly. "We can offer you a 60K base, and that won't include your bonus."
"How much would my bonus be?"
"It's something that is discussed by the partners at the year's end, depending on how much business you bring in. There is no hard and fast number I can give you."
"There is no ballpark." She narrowed her eyes at me. "There is such a wide variation from year to year. But the base for a CWA assistant is the highest of any agency—or publishing house, for that matter." She gave me a pointed look. The message was: I know what you make, and I know this is more than that, so don't try to play me.
I took a deep breath. ("Do not accept their first offer," Nance said. "Do you think a man ever accepts a first offer? No! They expect you to negotiate. It will hurt you if you don't."). "It's a very generous base," I said. "But I am doing really well at Literatti, and they are very happy with my performance there. I see a real future for myself at that company, so for me to leave, it would have to be for something closer to 80K."
Molly let me squirm in her silence for a bit. Just when I was sure I'd blown the whole thing, asked for too much, she said, "That's closer to the salary of an agent-in-training. But William speaks the world of you, so I think we could work with 75."
I did a little mental victory dance.
The interview lasted for over two hours. After Molly, I met with Nathaniel, also in HR. Then I met Elspeth, the Lit Coordinator for the NY office. All of them raved about CWA in a way I'd never heard anyone rave about a company before. They leapt out of bed in the morning to get to work. Their co-workers were inspiring. CWA truly promoted a sense of community, as opposed to the every-man-for-himself mentality that so many other agencies are infamous for. The company encourages volunteer work and partakes in all kind of notable programs to fund theatre and arts in local NYC high schools. When I looked around the office, I saw tons of assistants my age who appeared genuinely engaged in their work. William tracked me down at one point and made one of his corny jokes I love to hate so much. By the time I left, my mind was made up: If CWA offered me the job, I was going to take it.
I couldn't believe how many emails I had once I left CWA and made my way back over to Literatti, but one stood out right away. It was from Richard, asking me how dinner went with William and if I was going to be following him over to the dark side.
I thought about how to respond to him the entire way back to Literatti. I finally settled on telling him I'd just come from an interview and I really liked the company. 'What are you up to later?' I asked. 'I kind of want to talk to you about something.'
'That doesn't sound good,' came his response. 'But I'm free tonight? Want to grab a drink?'
The day seemed to stretch on forever. Finally, it was time to meet Richard. He was already at the bar when I walked in, rolling a pint of beer in between his hands. He'd ordered me a vodka soda.
"Aw, Richard," I said. "Thanks."
I told him all about the interview and how impressed I'd been by CWA. Richard nodded. "I mean, there's no doubt it's a dynamic company. Great things can happen for your career there. I just didn't think this is what you wanted to do. Be in the biz."
"What is it I want to do?" I asked. "Write? That's a side career. Something I'll have to build on my own anyway. Editing other people's work isn't helping me anymore than selling other people's work will."
"You won't have time to write if you go to CWA," Richard said.
I shrugged. "I don't have time now. At least I'd be on track to make more money. I'm getting to a point in my life where I need to think about my future. I want to make enough money to have security and enjoy my life, not just get by. And it's all on me, because I'm not in New York to get my Mrs. degree."
Richard laughed into his beer. "One hundred bucks that you're married in three years."
I swatted his arm. "No, I won't be. Plus Nance would disown me. She said I better be at least thirty before I even think about getting engaged. "
"Oh my god!" Richard said, cheerleader-perky. "It's like, almost four years away."
I sipped my vodka soda. "It's just I'm realizing there's this like, glass ceiling at a publishing house that very few people break through. Frank did it, but Frank came up in a time when people were hungry for writers. Real writers. It's different now, and CWA gets that. That's why they're making money and Literatti is trying to plug the leak."
Richard nodded. "True." His disposition seemed to shift right in front of my eyes. All of a sudden he was sad, distracted.
I took a chance. "What's up with you? Everything okay?"
He asked the bartender for another beer and ignored the question. "So what did you want to talk to me about?"
I took a deep breath to collect myself. "Well, it's more like I want to ask you something."
Richard leaned forward on his elbows and turned towards me. His eyes raked me up and down. "Ask away, lady."
I decided to just go for it. "Are you cheating on Sam?"
Richard didn't even react. Just kept staring at me so intensely I had to look away. "Who wants to know?"
"Don't avoid the question. Nina saw you and another girl making out at a bar. Are you cheating on Sam?"
"I don't see how it's any of your business." Richard's voice was maddeningly calm. It was exactly the right thing to say to me and exactly the right way to say it if he was trying to get under my skin, which, of course he was.
I gave him a hard look. "What are you doing, Richard?"
"What are you doing, Josie? Coming at me like a fucking jealous girlfriend."
"You know what?" I grabbed my bag. "Forget it."
"Yup!" Richard called after me as I took off. "Run away, princess! Like you always do when you hear something you don't like!"
I shoved the door to the bar open, aware that everyone in the place was staring at me. I stalked down the street, my cheeks burning with embarrassment, desperate for a cab.
I heard Richard behind me before I saw him. "What?" I asked, quietly.
"I broke up with Sam," Richard said.
I turned around. It was so cold that my breath came out in a fantastic white gust. "What? When?"
Richard stared at the ground, like he couldn't bare to see my reaction when he said what he said next. "Right after Thanksgiving."
"Wha—why? Why would you tell me you were in love with her when you weren't even with her?"
"Because I panicked? Okay? I panicked. You didn't seem like you felt the same way when I told you how I felt, and I'm not...I'm just not cut out for this stuff. I'm going to hurt someone."
"Or you'll get hurt," I said.
Richard shrugged his agreement. "Or I'll get hurt." He looked up at me finally.
A cab idled to a stop by my side. The driver beeped and waved for me to get in. "There's your out," Richard said. "Just go home. We can pretend like none of this ever happened." He tilted his head back and laughed into the night. "God! It's embarrassing enough as it is."
"I did feel the same way," I said.
Richard shook his head. "Don't."
"Don't say that just to make me feel better."
"I'm not. It's the truth."
The cab beeped again. I waved him on.
Richard wasn't moving, so I took a step towards him. "I don't want this to end badly," Richard said. "But I don't trust myself."
"I'm willing to risk it." I stopped just short of us touching. The next move was going to have to be his.
Richard groaned. "You drive me crazy, you know?"
"And you think you don't? You think I don't see that you go out of your way to push my buttons?"
Richard brought his thumb to the corner of my mouth and smiled. "You make it kinda easy."
I gave him a little shove and he latched onto my wrist. His fingers were like icicles right at the spot where my pulse throbbed. He seemed to move in slow motion as he pulled me close and leaned down. It was the first time we ever kissed where we actually both wanted it, when there was nothing to hold us back. I couldn't get enough.
From inside the bar I heard banging and cheering. We pulled apart and looked behind us. We had an audience watching us from the window, clapping and giving us the thumbs up. When they started chanting, "Make up sex! Make up sex!" Richard grabbed my hand and pulled me down the street.
"Totally never going back there," I laughed.
"We just fucking made their night," Richard said. He slipped his arm around my waist and held his other hand high in the street. A cab grumbled to a still at the curb. Richard opened the door and I climbed in. "65th between 1st and 2nd," he told the driver.
"I don't remember inviting you over," I said.
Richard's hand slipped up the back of my neck, his fingers anchoring in my hair. "Yeah," he said, "you do." The space between our faces narrowed, until we were so close that if the driver were to look in the rearview mirror, he wouldn't be able to tell where I began and where Richard ended.