I was experimenting with a deep side part, more of a combover, really, when there was a knock on my door. I tucked my chin into my chest and examined my roots situation in the bathroom mirror. Still atrocious. I sighed and put my hairbrush down and went to open the door. The clock on the microwave display blinked from 11:59 to 12:00 as I walked past—Peter was exactly on time.
Peter held up a bag from In-N-Out and a six pack of beer. “Dinner.”
Instantly, my mouth began to water. I’d never bothered to get lunch, not even an afternoon snack. After my meeting with William and my failed attempts to locate the manuscript for The Five I’d lost my appetite entirely. I knew Howie had taken it, but I hadn't seen her for the rest of the day, and I didn't know what she was up to or how to handle this. I thought about going to William, but I couldn't figure out a way to play it without coming across like a whiny tattletale—"Howie's being mean to me and she took my favorite toy!" Part of being an agent is managing difficult people and challenging situations, so somehow I had to figure out a way to handle this situation without involving William.
Peter wagged the bag back and forth, wafting that briny French fry smell into my apartment. My stomach twisted, impatiently. I grabbed my purse and shut and locked my door. “I am going to inhale that burger.”
“I can’t believe they expect you to stay here,” Peter said, dabbing a corner of his mouth with a napkin. We’d parked at a pier overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica. I’d mentioned to Peter a few days ago that I hadn’t been to the beach once since moving out here, and his mouth dropped in disbelief. “I go every weekend,” he’d said. “Weekends," I'd murmured, "what are those again?”
“Yup.” I washed down the last bite of my burger with a swig of beer. I’d decided to break my no-drinking rule. I deserved a beer after the day I’d had. I deserved twenty-seven of them.
“Would you really stay out here?” Peter asked.
I watched a wave break, the lip curdling along the edge of the shore. “I’m trying to figure that out.”
“You’re actually considering their offer?” Peter asked, his voice going high with surprise.
I turned to look at him. I couldn't believe he was surprised I would consider it. “Of course I am. It’s an amazing offer. I’d be a junior agent, at twenty-six years old. I’d practically double my salary. Would definitely double it if my bonus is enough.”
“But they can't even guarantee you a bonus, so don't base your decision on that," Peter said.
"Thanks for the tip," I said, a little sharply.
"Don't be like that," Peter said. "Sometimes you can be hasty, that's all. I just want to make sure you really think about everything you’d be giving up,” Peter said.
I folded my arms across my chest. “What would I be giving up, exactly?”
“What about your family? Your friends?”
"I'm not giving them up, Peter. They'd still be my family and friends. I just wouldn't see them as often."
Peter balled up his napkin and tossed it into the empty In-N-Out bag. "Wouldn't that upset your mom, though? You two are close, I thought."
I laughed. “Do you want to know what Nance said when I called to tell her about it?”
Peter waited for me to answer my own question.
“She said this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to get ahead in your career. That no one who has ever gotten anywhere in life got there by playing it safe.” I replayed our conversation from earlier in the evening in my head. “Sweetheart, your father and I will visit. We’ll make it work. Don’t you even worry about us. We are so proud of you.”
“But there is more to life than your career,” Peter said. “Like...the rest of your life.”
I traced the mouth of the beer bottle with my finger. I couldn't believe we were going here again. “What’s the rest of my life?”
“Uh, how about friendships, relationships, a family.”
“And I can’t have those things in L.A.?”
Peter opened his mouth to say something, then shut it. His jaw tightened, then released.
“I can’t have them with you in L.A.,” I concluded.
Peter snorted. “Don't think so highly of yourself. Really.”
“Well?" I help up my hands and bore him down with a look. Peter shook his head and turned away from me, looked out the window. "What is it then?” I pushed. “Why are you so opposed to this?”
“I just,” Peter sighed, and a little smudge appeared on the pane. L.A. has a blessedly dry climate, but there was actually a little bit of humidity by the water. “I just don’t want to see you turn into one of those people.”
“You know,” Peter said, “the ones who give everything to their career and don’t give time to...all the other stuff that’s important in life.” He looked at me.
“Is that what you think you did?”
“No,” Peter said. “I made time for that other stuff. It just didn’t work out. And I regret it every day. You have no idea...I’m thirty-eight.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “There are so many things I wish I had right now that I don’t have. I'm telling you this from the perspective of someone who wants stability in his life right now and can't seem to find it. I'm scared it's too late for me. I would never want to see you in this place.”
I found his hand and squeezed it. “I know. But listen, you took the steps to find that relationship and have a family and it didn't work out. There are no guarantees. And I don't even know if I want those things. I can't make decisions based on something I might want in the future. Even if those things were more important to me, it's not an either/or decision, here. Being an agent in L.A. and stability in my personal life are not mutually exclusive, you know? But for right now, I like having the freedom to give as much as I can to my career. I love it, actually.”
Peter looked down, at my hand in his. I wondered if he was surprised too, that there weren't as many sparks there as usual. “You know, when I first met you, I didn’t think this was who you were,” Peter said.
I opened my mouth to defend myself but Peter stopped me. “It’s a compliment.” He squeezed my hand.
I was suddenly overtaken with a desire to run. I'd only had two beers, but I was feeling antsy and adventurous. I wiggled my feet out of my sandals and pushed open my door. “Come on.”
At first, I didn’t think Peter had followed me. But then I heard his breathing, strong and sure, right behind me as I plunged into the ocean. The water was colder than I thought it would be and dark as a bruise. I only made it up to my hips before I stopped and dropped to my knees, letting a small wave charge me and soak me all over.
“Why did you stop?” Peter gasped behind me. The water only reached him at mid-thigh.
“I got nervous,” I said, wiping salt water from my eyes. "You know, sharks."
Peter laughed and dropped to his knees, gliding closer to me. He hugged my waist and for a second, I thought he was going to kiss me again. But then he stood with force, heaving me into the air. I landed about five feet out, and when I broke the surface I screamed bloody murder. I didn’t stop until I swam in closer to the shore. Peter was laughing so hard he’d dropped to his knees again, and the water lapped at his chest.
“You are a special snowflake, Josie,” he said.
“I almost wish Jaws had gotten me so you would feel really bad,” I said.
“I would have gone in after you,” Peter said. “No matter what.”
"I don't know if I'd have gone in after you," I said. "I'm kind of a pussy like that." Peter splashed me in the face with water and I laughed. I tilted my head back and stretched my legs out in front of me, digging my fingers into the ocean's sandy floor. We sat like that for a while, not speaking, just floating, until our fingers wrinkled and Peter said it was late and he should probably get me home.