After three years, it finally happened.
Janie Bettencourt announced her promotion. She would be moving from Houston to New York to become Senior Editor of Trends magazine.
The promotion Nina O’Malley had hoped would be her own.
And, as if that news wasn’t enough to justify Nina adding banana splits as main dish items on her diet, ice cream became its own food group after Janie added that joining her would be staff photographer Brady Lambert.
The Brady who, years ago, promised her the moon. The Brady who, later, spun out of her orbit and splashed down in Janie’s. The Brady Lambert whom Nina had hoped would be her own.
When was she going to learn to wait for the other shoe to drop before assuming she could celebrate?
Earlier that morning, when she’d spotted an email message from Elise Johnson, the Executive Editor, Nina allowed herself the luxury of dreaming. Elise’s personal emails were infrequent, at least in her in-box, and generally, no frills, as if she’d be charged by the word count. So, she wasn’t at all offended when she read the brief request: “My office. Nine o’clock. Important matter to discuss. EJ.” In fact, she was elated. And she remained so for the next fifty-four minutes, not counting her elevator time to the seventh floor where she was ushered into Elise’s office.
In less time than it took for Nina to arrive in the starkly modern office of the executive editor, disappointment introduced itself. Later, when the elevator door swished open to reveal Janie, Nina felt like a contestant on a game show who’d guessed wrongly and seen what she might have won.
The weight of Elise’s remarks might have pushed Nina to the second floor almost as efficiently as the elevator: Structurally correct writing, but lacked style and passion. More initiative and less predictability. Network. Move out of your comfort zone. Elise challenged Nina to convince her that she’d be making a mistake not to promote her. “We’re considering other markets like Atlanta and Nashville, perhaps Los Angeles. One of those could be yours. Show me what you can do.”
By the time Janie gathered the staff and squealed her news, Nina had power walked to Starbucks and returned caffeinated and composed. She smiled in Janie’s direction, grateful Janie couldn’t read her thoughts to know her angelic face came from imagining a subway door closing on one of her size 6 Ferragamo shoes.
Just as the image was becoming crystal clear in Nina’s mind, a tidal wave of a voice in her head crashed over that picture and left behind the sound of her mother’s words: “You’re being so petty, my dear. God doesn’t like ugly, you know.” Nina mentally shushed her mother who, even more than twenty miles away, could still inject an admonition into her daughter’s nerve center of guilt.
Sheila Hudson O’Malley married Nina’s father Patrick not long after they graduated from high school and then stayed home to mother two children into semi-adulthood. What would she know about fickle boyfriends and dashed career dreams? “Sure, mother. Easy for you to say,” Nina muttered as she diverted her attention from the fawning frenzy over Janie to rearrange the clutter on her desk. She hoped to unearth her iPad from underneath what looked like an office supply store explosion of paper that had landed there.
“Were you talking to me?”
Nina paused between lifting legal pads to turn toward her cubicle-mate, Daisy Jeffers, who had scooted her desk chair past her partition, and now stared at her. As usual, her dark hair sprouted from the top of her head like sprinkler arms. She was always one strong wind short of being propelled above ground level.
“No. I was talking to my mother.” Nina resumed her excavation.
“Well, I’m assuming the one in your head since I don’t smell Chanel No. 5 in the vicinity. And, anyway . . .” she bit into her apple.
Now that Nina found her iPad lurking in her desk drawer under a stack of folders and three expired restaurant coupons, she focused on Daisy. “Are you aware how absolutely annoying that is?”
Daisy swallowed. “You mean her?” Still holding her half-eaten apple, Daisy bent her arm over her head and motioned in the general direction of the newly promoted.
Nina flipped open the leather cover to find her interview notes. “Not Janie. You. Can you wait until before or after your thoughts, not between them, to eat? It’s so maddening waiting for you to finish chewing . . .” She paused.
Her mother’s voice. She heard her mother’s voice, the one that forever seemed marinated in exasperation, spill out of her own mouth. She looked up at Daisy. “You just got a whiff of Chanel No. 5 didn’t you?” Nina gave way to the defeat and disappointment and flopped into her chair.
Daisy pinched her nose for a moment and grimaced. “A serious overdose.” Not an unexpected reply from someone who smelled as if she’d spritzed herself with bottled spring rain, newly mown summer grass, and a hint of an autumn bonfire. She tossed her apple core into her stainless steel ecolunchbox, wiped her hands with her cotton napkin, and rolled herself closer to Nina. Almost ten years younger than Nina, Daisy exuded a wisdom beyond her age. As a child, she slept in a car for weeks until her single mother found a homeless shelter for them. Daisy figured living on the streets was poverty’s answer to accelerated learning. Nina suspected Daisy’s minimalist approach to the externals in her life—clothing, furniture, car—balanced the burden of her emotional life.
“It’s just not your time,” said Daisy. “There will be a season for you, too.”
Nina felt as if she’d just been patted on the head and told to run along and play. “I’d like to wallow in my pity party a bit longer before you start breaking it up with your New Age-y philosophies,” she responded.
Daisy smiled. A reaction Nina found more annoying than the smattering of applause earlier that followed Janie’s news.
“Well, I wouldn’t be a worthy friend if I didn’t at least try to save you from yourself. And, anyway, how much of a party is it if you’re the only one with an invitation?”
“Speaking of invitations . . .”
Nina was as startled to see Janie materialize as Daisy appeared to be when she heard her voice. Daisy slowly swiveled her chair and looked up at the leggy blonde who leaned against the gray dividing wall separating their desks from the receptionist’s. “Whoa. How did you do that? Is magically transporting yourself part of the new job description?”
Janie tilted her head, placed her forefinger on her cheek, and became a perfect model for “deep in thought.” Except for the smirk. She dropped the pose and looked at Nina. “I suppose having my finger on the pulse of the magazine is a requisite for effective management. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Daisy and Nina exchanged eye contact then stared at Janie.
“So . . . anyway . . . back to invitations.” Janie reached into the pocket of her flouncy skirt and silenced the pinging on her cell phone. “I’m having a cozy going-away dinner at my condo in two weeks. Of course, you’re both invited. Bra and I are hosting it together.”
“Bra,” which she pronounced like “hey” was her special name for Brady, used only when not in his presence. The first time Janie uttered it in the office, it sliced through any thread of expectation Nina held for a future with him. She suspected the affectation was Janie’s unseen electric collar around Brady, but instead of confining him, it zapped a warning to any women on the prowl contemplating new territory. Or one like Nina, who hoped for an open gate.
Over time, most of the staff became adept at avoiding eye-rolls when Janie blathered on about Bra. Though Daisy refused to abandon the idea that she might one day write a story about Bra and Janie’s relationship. She hoped Victoria’s Secret would think it a grand tale of a woman who referred to her lingerie in third person.
Now, faced with the prospect of swallowing food while enduring Brady and Janie, Nina rifled through her mental file of excuses. She barely had time to consider the choices when Daisy said, “We wouldn’t dream of missing an opportunity to send you off on your new adventure.” She glanced at Nina. “Would we?”
What Nina wanted to do at that moment was send Daisy twirling back across the partition. Instead, she mumbled something about making sure she’d be free, grabbed her iPad, and hoped when she swiped her calendar she’d find an event so monumental it would be impossible to attend the dinner. But no. No White House interview, no late night talk show appearance, and no undercover expose planned. Just a reminder to drop off her clothes at the cleaner and buy a case of dog food. Pathetic. My life needs a makeover. She stared at the socially vacant month of April. “Well, I do have two things I’m committed to that day . . .” Nina avoided looking at Daisy and told Janie she didn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t be able to finish in time to attend the dinner.
Janie clapped her hands. “Wonderful! Check your emails because I’m sending e-vites with all the information and directions—” A piano riff sounded from her pocket. She pulled out her cell phone, then excused herself with an, “I have to answer this one.” The rhythm of her stiletto heels click-clacking on the wood floors accompanied her departure.
“Commitments? Since when did you have commitments?” Daisy could have replaced “commitments” with “children” and sounded no less surprised.
It was, after all, a word Nina had iced, figuratively speaking, along with others like engagement, marriage, wedding gown, and honeymoon. If only Nina could remember to forget some commitments in her life as much as she forgot to remember others, she wouldn’t have to place her dreams in the freezer.
“I consider feeding Manny and wearing clean clothes important responsibilities. Especially since they both cost more than I ever anticipated.” She had adopted her hybrid dog with the dachshund body and poodle hair from the local animal shelter almost a year ago. When she brought him home, she named him Manhattan and thought it clever and optimistic. Today, it just seemed ridiculous. The little runt developed severe food allergies and now required a special diet. She didn’t expect him to be so high maintenance. Expectations did not seem to be working in her favor lately.
“If that works for you, then stay with it,” said Daisy as she scooted her chair back to her desk. She closed her laptop, gathered her environmentally-safe assortment of bags, and wiggled her metro-nylon backpack out of the bottom drawer. “I have two more people to interview for the yoga feature, so I’ll let you get back to that one-woman pity party I interrupted.”
“Thanks.” Nina clapped, Janie-like. “It saves me from sending an e-vite.”
“You actually smiled. One small step—”
Nina grabbed a sheet of paper out of her printer and waved it in front of her. “I surrender. I surrender. No more words of wisdom.”
Daisy laughed. “Okay, but the terms of surrender include walking to the stairs with me. You’ve been sitting so long I’m surprised you’re not numb. But, the bonus is you’ll make sure I actually leave. And leave you alone.”
“That, my dear, is motivation enough,” said Nina. She waited until the glass doors of the office shut behind them before she asked Daisy if she noted Brady’s conspicuous absence from the Janie show.
“Probably not as much as you did.” Daisy’s eyes swept over Nina’s face, and Nina knew desperation hovered there. “You need to let go of him in both places,” Daisy said as she pressed her hand first to her forehead and then to her heart. “Remember, ‘There’s a season for everything.’ ”
Nina sighed. “Is that some mantra you chant?”
Daisy pushed open the door to the stairwell. “No, but that’s not a bad idea.” She paused, shifted her backpack, and said, “By the way, it’s not new age-y talk. It’s old age-y. Very old, as in Old Testament. King Solomon.”
“So, you’re telling me I’m in a very long line of people who know what it’s like not to get what they want? I suppose that’s some comfort,” said Nina drily. Comfort and God hadn’t been synonymous for her since before her brother was hospitalized. It wasn’t so much that she gave up on God. She just chose not to give in to Him.
“The real comfort is, the line didn’t end there,” said Daisy. “See you tomorrow. Take care of yourself.”
Nina watched Daisy and couldn’t help but notice that, despite the baggage she carried, Daisy floated down the stairs as if she carried no weight at all.