On Christmas morning, I woke up the only way anyone should ever wake up: To the smell of greasy, delicious bacon sizzling in a pan.
I rolled out of bed, brushed my teeth, and threw on a sweatshirt. It was almost 10AM, and I was surprise slash disappointed Richard hadn't crept into my room in the middle of the night to do it on my twin bed. Nance would have totally looked the other way.
I was just about to knock on the guest room door, but something I heard on the other side made me stop. It was Richard, speaking in a hushed tone. "You need to calm down. Calm down." Pause. "Yes, of course I love you." Pause in which I thought I might throw up. "I'm not just saying it. I do." I heard his voice travel back and forth as he started to pace. "Maybe this weekend. ...okay, okay, Merry Christmas."
Then it was silent, save for my labored breathing. I didn't know whether to knock and confront him on what I'd just heard or go crawl back in bed and stay there until doctors developed the cure for douchebag. But before I could make a decision, the door opened and Richard was in front of me.
"Josie!" He said, surprised.
"Who were you just talking to?" I asked, quietly, not sure I wanted to hear the answer.
Richard folded his arms over his chest and didn't say anything for a moment. "You were totally eavesdropping on me."
I stared him down. "In the hierarchy of asshole offenses, eavesdropping is way lower than stringing along two girls at the same time."
Richard held up his phone to show me his call history.
"Oh," I said, meekly.
"So who's the asshole now? The girl who was eavesdropping on the guy who was calling his mother on Christmas or the guy who was calling his mother on Christmas?"
I traced my toe on the carpet. "The girl who was eavesdropping on the guy who was calling his mother on Christmas."
Richard laughed. "Thank you."
"I thought you were, um," I searched for the right word,"estranged from your parents."
Richard shrugged. "It's complicated."
I waited for him to say more but he didn't. "Are you going to tell me?"
Richard put his hands on my shoulders and hunched down so we were eye to eye. "It's incredibly depressing. I don't want to depress you on Christmas." He straightened up and looked over his shoulder. "Speaking of...." He motioned for me to follow him into the guest room. Sitting on the nightstand was a lumpy present bound together with about two rolls of Scotch tape. "Sorry," he said as he handed it to me, "I suck at wrapping."
I tore the paper off and gasped. "Is this a...?" I turned the copy of The Bell Jar over in my hands.
"First edition," Richard smiled.
I clutched the book to my chest. I was so touched I could have cried. "Richard, this is too much. This must have cost you a fortune." I examined the cover closer. "Seriously, Richard. I can't believe you did this. You were out of work for a while and you really don't have to spend this kind of money"—
Richard cut me off with a kiss. "It didn't cost me a cent," he said when he pulled away.
I looked up at him, confused. "I don't understand. Did you just have a two thousand dollar copy of The Bell Jar collecting dust on your bookshelf or something?"
Richard caught my chin in his hand and pinched, smushing my cheeks together. "How about you just say thank you?"
Richard dropped his hand. "You're welcome."
I cleared my throat. "Well, you're not going to believe this." I nodded at him to follow me into my bedroom.
Richard laughed when he opened my gift. "Great minds think alike I guess." He held up the leather bound, autographed copy of Bright Lights, Big City. I bought it at the Brooklyn Flea for eighty dollars—which has to be only a fraction of what the first edition of The Bell Jar is worth.
"I remember you said how it inspired you to write your own book," I said. "I hope you follow through with it."
Richard opened the book and traced his thumb over Jay McInerney's signature. He looked up at me. "This is seriously the best gift anyone's ever given me."
We just stood there, smiling at each other like two dummies, until Nance yelled from the kitchen that the mimosas weren't just going to drink themselves.
The next day, Richard and I took a late morning train back to the city. We were both off on Thursday and Friday, and were in no rush. "I think," Richard said as we pulled into Penn Station, "you should just come back to my place since your place is such a pain in the ass to get to from here." That much is true. Richard lives on the Upper West Side, and you can grab the 2 from Penn and ride it to the 72nd street stop and it's like an avenue from his apartment. There is no easy way to get to my apartment from Penn. There is no easy way to get to my apartment from anywhere, really, because the Second Avenue subway Gods do not look kindly on us poor Upper East Siders (tiny violins). Still, I wasn't buying it. I raised my eyebrows at Richard and he added, "Fine, and also because I want to do bad things to you."
I exaggerated my gasp. "You mean like tie me up and force me to watch daytime talk shows?"
Richard shrugged as we filed off the train and started to climb the platform stairs. "What can I say? I'm into some pretty kinky shit."
I felt my phone vibrate in my bag. I'd been waiting for William to call me all morning. Frank had asked for my answer as soon as Christmas was over, and I needed to know what CWA could offer me before I made my final decision.
"It's him." I showed my phone to Richard.
"Moment of truth," Richard said.
"So here's the deal," William said, without even bothering with a hello. "I can't officially guarantee you a spot in the program this summer. But off the record...it's a done deal."
"What does that mean?"
"No one here has ever worked with you before," William said. "The other agents can't just blindly agree to speed you through the process. And under normal circumstances, they wouldn't even consider something like this, but you're in a good position, because, like I said, we're building out the books department and we need bodies in the New York office. Especially bodies with publishing experience. I need you, and therefore CWA needs you."
Richard and I reached the top of the stairs. I was embarrassingly out of breath. Two days of sitting on your ass and consuming an entire honey baked hog will do that to a person. "What exactly," I huffed, "did everyone agree to off the record?"
"That if you demonstrate instinct and show you have some hustle, a spot is yours as early as this summer or this fall."
"So it could be fall too?"
"It's a rolling program," William said. "Like I said, no set start date or end date. Once they have a good group of candidates they send them out together. Generally a new group heads out to LA every three months or so. Summer might be a little too soon. You need to get your feet wet here first."
I paused at the foot of the next flight of stairs. "I mean, William, do you understand how torn I am here? I really want to go with you, I do, but I'd be turning down a guaranteed title bump. I don't want to be stuck as an assistant for the next three years of my life." As soon as I said it, I regretted it. I know how sensitive Richard is that he's still an assistant at almost thirty years old. I glanced at him but he was thumbing through his phone, pretending like he hadn't heard me.
"That's not going to happen if you don't want it to happen," William said. "That's what you need to understand. If you work hard, CWA has the resources to make you successful in a way a place like Literatti can't. CWA is breaking ground in terms of how we produce and package content. Literatti is stuck in the print age, and guess what? The print age is over. You've gotta have your hands in other media if you want to survive. That's why CWA is growing, and Literatti is downsizing." William exhaled in frustration. "Josie, you have the opportunity to work for one of the most powerful companies in the country. Do you know how many people would kill for an offer like this?"
I realized I was nodding. "I know, you're right."
I could tell William was smiling when he said, "So? What do you say?"
I sighed. Eight months from now, I could regret this. But I knew I would regret not giving it a try even more. Before I left, Nance told me that sometimes you have to move sideways in order to move forward. I might be delaying a title change in the short run, but in the long run, I knew CWA could offer me more in terms of the dynamite career I envisioned for myself. I didn't want to be a big fish in a small pond, which was the most I could hope for at a place like Literatti. I wanted to be a big fish in a big pond, and CWA was the big pond. "I say how do you like your coffee again?"
William laughed so hard I had to hold my phone a few inches from my ear. He calmed down enough to say, "I'll see you the Monday after New Year's. Another great thing about this industry—the whole place shuts down for two weeks over Christmas even though everyone is Jewish. Makes no fuckin' sense."
"Well, I'll probably have to finish out the week at Literatti," I said.
"Oh, God," William groaned. "Just take the week off. Don't be such a goody two shoes."
I rolled my eyes. "Bye, William."
I ended the call and tucked my phone into my pocket. Richard was looking at me, waiting for me to say something. I turned my hands up. "Well, I'm going to CWA."
Richard pressed his lips together and nodded, slowly, like he was absorbing the news in small doses. "Want to know something?" he finally said. He took a step towards me and relieved my overnight bag from my shoulder, slinging it across his own.
I kneaded the imprint the strap had left in my skin. "I don't know," I said. "Do I?"
Richard reached out and tucked me underneath his arm. His fingers found the same spot I was just massaging and took over. "I think you made the right decision."
I burrowed deeper into his side and gave in to a smile. "I think I did too."