I stepped into the guest room, where Richard was staying, and put my hands on my hips. "Well?"
He grimaced and held his hand over his chest, like he was having a heart attack. "I may never have a boner again."
I tossed a pillow at him. I'd gone all out for the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. I'm not sure if words can do my masterpiece full justice, but gosh darn it I'll try. First, I started off with a sweater I found in a Salvation Army on the Lower East Side (I had it dry cleaned...the last thing I need is Roscoe the bed bug sniffing dog tearing up my already sad apartment). It's checkered with mustard yellow, navy, and black, and looks like something a hybrid Billy Cosby and Dwight Schrute would wear. Certainly takes care of the ugly part, but not exactly Christmas colors, so this is where I got a little Martha Stewart. I cut three pieces of white felt to assemble an enormous Frosty the Snowman, cut some black felt for his eyes and buttons, and then molded orange felt into a long, pointy carrot nose. I glued that on, and outlined his buxom shape with gold tinsel and little red and green Christmas bulbs. From the side, I looked like I had a giant orange unicorn horn sticking out of my chest. Obviously there was a red Santa hat on my head too. I was determined to win this thing.
Richard caught the pillow and tossed it back at me. "I'm still going to beat you though." He stooped and rummaged around in his bag, pulling out a bright green cardigan decorated with gingerbread men and candy canes.
I pshawed. "In your dreams. You didn't even get crafty!"
"Just wait for it." He pulled off his sweater and the t-shirt under it, and I tried to pretend like I wasn't totally checking out his body. Guys like Richard are so lucky. He can eat whatever he wants, and he goes to the gym like three days a week for forty minutes and does some push-ups and sit ups and runs one measly mile on the treadmill and he comes out looking like fucking Ian Somerhalder. All I want for Christmas are Jessica Alba's genes, okay?
He pulled on his cardigan and sweet baby Jesus that thing was tight. It had a V-neck, and it exposed all of his skin down to the middle of his chest. "I'll add a t-shirt under it if you think Nance will be offended."
I laughed. "No way. That is right up Nance's alley."
He gave me a look, like, and yours? I glanced behind me at the empty, dark hallway. I could hear my parents futzing around in the kitchen, getting everything ready for the party, and I closed the door with my foot.
Richard was in front of me, his hands cupped around the nape of my neck. "Watch the carrot nose!" I hissed. He was dangerously close to crushing it. He rolled his eyes and tugged at the hem of my sweater. "Take this off anyway. I couldn't have sex with Blake Lively in it."
I didn't even realize I'd done it until after, but I'd given him a little, playful slap on the cheek. Something lit up in his eyes and he ripped off my sweater (yes, I had to reassemble the nose after, harrumph.).
He tossed me on the bed and threw his hideous cardigan on the ground. I'd barely bounced once before he was over me, one of his hands wrapped around both my wrists, pinning them to the bed. I was breathing hard when he said, "Now you're in trouble."
He unbuttoned my jeans, painfully slow, and I kicked them off my legs. He took care of his own next, holding his mouth over mine at the same time he pushed inside me. I yelped, surprised, when he gave my lower lip a nip. He looked down at me. "Don't make a noise." His hand slipped between my legs and I exhaled, shakily. "Or I'll stop." He kissed all along my neck. "And I don't think you want me to stop."
He moved on top of me, quietly, slowly, until both our faces crumbled and we were gasping for breath.
Kept the Santa hat on for all of it too.
My Dad was putting the finishing touches on his infamous bourbon milk punch and Nance was assembling the cheese plate when we came downstairs. "Can I help with anything?"
"Can you grab the cheese knives from under the sink?" Nance looked up from the Gruyere and laughed. "Oh my God, you two look hysterical." She narrowed her eyes at me. "Josie! What happened to your lip?"
"Huh?" I brought my fingers to my mouth and when I pulled them away, I saw there was a little bit of blood. "Oh my God," I said. "I...I tripped and bit my lip at the same time. I didn't realize I was bleeding." I shot a look at Richard, who pretended to cough into his hand.
I wet a paper towel in the sink and dabbed it at my mouth before getting the cheese knives for my Mom. Just as I was handing them to her, my phone rang. It was William.
"I have to take this." I showed the screen to Richard and he made a fist. "Take no prisoners."
I hurried into the dining room for privacy before I picked up. "Merry almost Christmas!"
William yawned. "I just got in. It's after midnight here. It is Christmas."
"Oh," I said. "Sorry, you didn't have to call me tonight. It could have waited until after"—
"Lesson number one," William barked, "you're always on in this job. Don't care if it's Granny's fucking funeral, you better pick up your phone when a client calls."
"My grandmom died three years ago."
"Good! Then you'll never find yourself if that unfortunate situation, like I have." He started in on one of those great, hacking coughs. I waited patiently for him to finish. "Now," he cleared his throat, "what is so important that you needed to speak to me ASAP?"
"Literatti gave me a counter offer."
For a few moments, there was just the sound of William breathing hard, making his way through the airport. "Did you take it?"
"No!" I said. "I haven't accepted any offer. I haven't even signed your offer letter yet."
William sighed. "What are they offering you?"
"Well," I said, "more money. And a promotion. To associate editor."
I held my breath and waited for his reaction. Finally, William said, "And you want us to do better?"
I closed my eyes and remembered the speech I'd worked up with Nance. "William, I'm going to be twenty-six in a month. I've been an assistant since I graduated college and moved to New York four years ago. I'm ready for the next step. And I've proved myself to be ready for the next step."
"Look," William said, and I could tell he'd stopped walking to tell me this. "I get it. You're over getting someone's coffee. You're contributing at a much higher level than that, I agree. But I don't have anything to offer to you other than assistant, because you can't just be an agent."
"That's not what I'm suggesting," I said. "But isn't there something in the middle? I did some research, and some agencies have these like, literary coordinators."
"That's a managerial job," William said. "There's no room for growth. You won't get to an agent by being a coordinator." He cleared his throat again. "Josie, listen, this is just how it works at an agency. We have some very talented, very successful agents who were assistants until they were twenty-eight, got into the training program, toughed it out, and then that's it. They're agents and they don't answer to anyone and they have their entire career in front of them with opportunities you can't even imagine." He lowered his voice, reverently. "Not to mention they were pulling in high—and I do mean high—six figures by the time they were twenty-nine." He paused and I could imagine him snapping his fingers. "It happens that quick, kid."
My carrot nose suddenly unstuck from my sweater and tumbled to the floor. It was like an omen or something. "That's the other thing I wanted to talk to you about," I bent down to pick up the now flaccid orange felt. Goddamnit, Richard. "The training program. I've been hearing some...intense....things about it."
William laughed. "What, from Frank? That nerd wouldn't last a day in the program, so yeah, I'm sure the idea of it scares the crap out of him."
"I'm serious, William." I told him everything I'd heard—the nineteen hour work days, the seven day work weeks, the ambiguity about the end of the program and the possibility of being told I had to stay in LA.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat things," William said. "The program is tough. And people do drop out. But you wouldn't, Josie. You've got a work ethic like I haven't seen in a long time."
"But what if they tell me they want me to stay in LA at the end of it? I don't want to live in"—
"They won't," William stressed. "You're in literary. The entire publishing industry is in New York. There would be no point in having you stay out there." He coughed again. "And here's the other thing. While, yeah, you go into the program not knowing how long it will last, generally it lasts three months. You can do anything for three months." He laughed, suddenly. "Josie, if I can do it, you can do it. And part of surviving it is just ingratiating yourself with people and making friends with the other trainees and giving each other support, and that's the kind of stuff you're great at."
Richard appeared in the frame of the door and held up his hands, like, "So?" I just shrugged.
"Listen," William said. "Let me talk to HR. Maybe there's some way we can guarantee you entrance into the program this summer."
"This summer?" I squawked.
"CWA is building out their books division," William said. "Right now it's just me. But they need a female agent. Someone who can handle all the women's fiction and memoirs and what not." He laughed. "I'm clearly not the man for that."
I held my hand to my chest, even though he couldn't see me. "And you're thinking that could be me?"
"Josie," William said, "why do you think I wanted to bring you in? I don't want you to just be my assistant indefinitely, I want you to be my partner. We could be unstoppable. We could acquire Literatti with our resources. Fuck that associate editor shit. A year or two from now, you could be a full blown agent."
I heard the sounds of outside—cars honking and wind blowing into the mouthpiece of the phone. "My car's here!" William shouted. "I'll get back to you after the holiday."
I ended the call and looked up at Richard, excitedly. "William is going to talk to HR to see if there's a way to guarantee me a spot in the training program this summer."
Richard folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the wall. "Wow."
"I know! I mean, it may not happen, but if it does it means I would come back in the Fall and be an agent. At twenty-six."
Richard smiled, but it was like he had to force himself to do it. "And you'd be going to LA."
"Yeah." I waved my hand, dismissively. "But only for three months."
Richard nodded. "Well, come have a drink with me, to celebrate!" He was working even harder to smile now, and I smiled back, pretending not to notice.