I set up the perfect meeting with Justin. In the early hours of the morning, we would sit in a Starbucks close to work, and he’d enlighten me. We’d be by the window, there’ll be traffic of caffeine addicted workaholics, and we’d be sitting across from each other talking only about work. I’ve set up the meeting before work because for one, he wouldn’t be able to lag considering the time limit; and two, I want it rubbed in his face that it’s all purely professional. We’re not friends, we’re not becoming closer; it’s all professional and to the point. Like a pure espresso shot. Those things taste like poison by the way.
Daniel, of course, wasn’t entirely happy that I was still meeting up with Justin. But he did appreciate that I was putting effort into making it a colleague-to-colleague meeting than a friendly hang-out. I woke up before him and lightly kissed him on the cheek. He turned over and locked me in with his arm as I was pulling back. I was thrown over his body and flopped next to him in bed.
“You’re messing up my hair,” I giggled.
Daniel silenced me by kissing me all over my face. I couldn’t stop laughing. I lay on my back and he propped himself up on his elbow. He stroked my cheek, looked at me, and then brought his lips down. I pushed my lips onto his as eagerly as he did with me, running my fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, scrunching the soft strands and pulling him closer.
“That’s what you get for waking me up,” he joked.
I laughed. “Cruel punishment, indeed.”
“Mmm, the cruellest of them all is tomorrow.”
“Roses with thorns and chocolates with gooey centres? Oh, the torture.”
“Oh the sarcasm!” Daniel laughed.
I pushed him on his back and started on his chest. I kissed his pec and ran the point of my tongue down the side of his rib cage. I propped myself up higher and planted kisses on the centre of his chest, looking up from time to time to find him watching me with a smile. I smiled back, ready to return to going down on him when I glanced at the time.
“Oh shit. I better go.”
Daniel looked at the clock and back at me. “No, stay a little longer.”
“I have to go or I’ll be late.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Oh, be late then. Who cares?”
I lifted a brow. “Come on, you were okay with this yesterday. I told you everything.”
“That was yesterday.”
I began fixing my hair in the mirror. “Are you going to hate every guy I meet?”
“No, just the assholes.” He shrugged, “It just so happens most of them are guys.”
“They’re not all assholes.” I said. Daniel huffed a throaty sigh. “Stanley isn’t,” I noted.
“Stanley’s my friend.”
“Oh, so as long as they’re your friend first—”
“Fuck, Anna, I like Paul don’t I?”
I sighed and put my hands on my hips. “You’re right. You do.”
“Why do you have to argue with me about these assholes all the time?”
I walked towards him and sat next to him on the bed. He raised himself and leaned against the headboard. “Because you’re being uncomfortable makes me guilty and feel uncomfortable. It’s like…this one time, I wanted to go to a party and my parents wouldn’t let me, so I started crying. Because I was young and thought I had no life while everyone else got to have one. And they thought I was crying because I wanted to go but I was also crying because even if I went, I wanted them to approve of it. I wanted them to be okay with it.” I shrugged, “It’s sort of the same principle, I guess.” I paused. “I wouldn’t meet him any other way, this is strictly about my career and you care about my career don’t you?”
Daniel sighed and shook his head as he looked down. Then he faced me. “Go on, or you’ll be late.”
I smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you.”
Daniel started to smile and got out of bed to pull me into a tight embrace. He pressed his lips against mine. “I love you, too.” He left a last peck on my forehead before he said, “Have a good day.”
I rushed to the corner of the café as soon as I met eyes with Justin. As I hopped to it I had to consciously keep my composure on my face. I didn’t want him to see how annoyed I was about needing this meeting, or thinking that I needed it. The whole situation reads like Snow White and the poison apple; I’d succumbed to the temptation. In this case, the jerk.
“Good morning,” Justin grinned brightly.
“Morning.” I sat my bag down as I took a seat across from him.
“How are you?” he continued to smile. I think he enjoyed that I was annoyed and just wanted to push my buttons even more.
I tilted my head. “Where do we start?”
He chuckled and took out his ledger. “I took the liberty of ordering coffee for us both.”
“No I don’t—” I shook my head, but was interrupted by a young, sweet girl placing two to-go cups of coffee on the table before us. “I don’t like coffee,” I said.
“Oh sure you do. Unsweetened, light soy, cinnamon, latte.”
I narrowed my eyes. “How do you know that?”
“I have my ways.” I lifted both my brows and was in kill-mode before he laughed and explained. “I asked.”
“Noelle. What she didn’t tell me was how a coffee-hater like yourself came to liking that specific cup of coffee.”
“Everyone has their tastes.”
He waited for me to go on. The ledger was closed on the table and his interlocked fingers supporting his chin, all weighted by his elbows. “I’m very curious.”
I sighed. This was a huge mistake, wasn’t it? “First of all, from what I’ve been told from a barista, lattes aren’t made from coffee beans. Secondly, it’s from the movie The Proposal.”
“I’m sorry, what? A movie?”
I nodded. “Yes. It’s the coffee Sandra Bullock drinks and Ryan Reynolds orders for himself as well for ‘just in case’ purposes. Now, may we get to it!?” I was half an octave away from snapping.
He laughed as he opened the ledger and flipped through some pages, revisiting his notes. I waited and waited and waited until finally, he stopped and closed the book. “Stella is vying for the associate editor position.”
“Right. That’s what I’m working for. So?”
“So…it doesn’t really exist yet. Lucy from HR says the only position that will more likely be available is assistant editor from our entry-level. I know you want to skip that step and go straight for the associate—” Justin put his hands up when I was nodding vehemently— “but…that’s going to be tough when Stella is trying for 9AM meetings with David.”
“Why would she meet with him?”
“To discuss her options.”
“It doesn’t matter though,” I furrowed my brows, still confused, “because David said I was one of the best.”
“He said that to Stella as well.”
I huffed an irritated sigh. “How do you know all of this?”
Justin leaned back, smiling. “I guess I’m much more of a man-whore than you perceive.”
I accidentally chuckled. As if the giggle took a wrong turn and went out of my mouth instead. “Okay.”
Justin leaned forward. “Anyway, this time lot—” he pointed at ‘meeting 9AM’ in the ledger— “was what that was for. Now, over here—”
“Wait—” I raised my hand to stop Justin from going further, inevitably annoying him— “what are you suggesting that I should do, follow the hierarchy of the system instead of beating it?”
“Beating it?” he laughed. “Anna, look, you’re going to have a much better chance climbing the ladder rather than skipping it. An associate editor position is going to be given to a person that’s been there for a longer amount of time. Guaranteed. That automatically rules out Stella. Lucy from HR says there aren’t going to be any associate positions, but most likely an assistant editor. You’re currently an editorial assistant, having less responsibilities than those two positions obviously, but if you stay in David’s good graces and stop worrying about Stella, then you’re good as golden for the assistant editor job.”
“Fuck it’s all so confusing.”
“Look, good news is you’ve been working as if you were an associate. If anything, David will be the one to tell you that there as an associate position, if there is one, but right now, assistant seems like the promotion you’re going to get. And one that you don’t even have to worry about Stella getting because you’ve been there longer than her. So…relax.”
“You tell me to relax, meanwhile she’s spreading lies about me?”
Justin took a sip of his coffee and stared me straight. “If you’re good at what you do, then no one will even listen to her lies. They’ll dissipate, and eventually, BOOM…promotion.”
I yawned and mumbled, “My head hurts.”
Justin went on talking about how an editorial assistant’s job, which is what I’m doing, is kind of pointless. I have no real responsibilities nor do I have anything behind me. It’s all in front. I’m booking meetings, checking mail, answering the telephone. Yeah, sure, I may read manuscripts at home and offer them to David, but other than that, there’s nothing really for me.
The good news Justin is telling me is that I’ve been working like an assistant editor. I racked my brain trying to figure out if David saw that and remembered that moment he took me and Brad to L.A. That kind of investment in an editorial assistant doesn’t come around that often. But an assistant editor; Sounds like I’m on the right track. When the day comes that I’m training a new editorial assistant it’ll be the day I know I’ve become an assistant editor.
Now an associate, well, that means I’ve shed the last bits of mail checking and answering the telephone of an editorial assistant position and have finally proven myself. I’ll be editing and reading more manuscripts, less administrative and more client liaison and creative storytelling, and I’ll even have my own assistant. If I’m calculating Justin’s timeline right, I wouldn’t see that position for at least a year or two since I’ll be needing to marinate as an assistant editor first.
This is if I listen to Justin’s words.
“You don’t mind if I check this stuff with HR and all that, do you?” I asked, cutting him off while he was babbling on about other business.
He shook his head. “Not at all. In fact, I expected as much.”
He closed the ledger. “You’re writing a book aren’t you?”
“Umm…” first the latte now this? “Who told you that?”
“Noelle,” he shrugged.
I’m going to kill her. “Kind of.”
“You seem like the type.”
“The type to what?”
“To write a book. You’re quiet and in your head a lot. You know, except when the occasion calls for it.”
“What are you writing?”
“None of your business. Is this meeting over?”
He shook his head. “No.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes it is.”
He leaned in and I braced myself. “I’m helping you right now. The least you can do is participate in this conversation. Out of consideration for my hard work and effort.”
I scoffed. “Why do you love to annoy me so much?”
He laughed. “I don’t know. It’s fun with you. Girls tend to like me even when I’m being an asshole. I like that someone’s fighting back.”
“What are you, a sadist?”
He laughed even louder. “No.”
I beg to differ. I sighed then. “I’d rather not say what it’s about.”
He nodded. “I can respect that. Every writer is always self-conscious about their work. I get that.”
“I’m not a writer,” I muttered. I looked up and found his gaze puzzled. “I’ll be a writer if I’m published. I’m not published yet.”
“Instead, right now, you’re an editorial assistant.”
“I need to pay the bills but I still love my job.”
“Hmm,” he mused. “You know, I can offer to read through your work.” I grimaced. He went on. “You know, it’s always good to have a second opinion and a fresh pair of eyes. I can help you with edits, sentence structure, etcetera.”
I grabbed my bag and stood. “Are we done?”
He leaned back. “Sure.”
I started to head out the now withering traffic of Starbucks until I remembered my latte. I turned on my heel, headed for the cardboard cup without looking at Justin, and then turned back out onto the cold streets.
“How was it in the morning?” Daniel asked when I returned home after a long and torturous workday.
“Fabulous,” I breathed unenthusiastically.
“Did he make a pass at you?”
“What?” he shrugged. “I’m just asking.”
“No, he didn’t.”
Daniel nodded. “Good. Happy Valentine’s day,” he quickly changed the subject, kissing me on the neck.
I smiled. “It’s tomorrow.”
“Well then Happy Valentine’s Eve.”
I yawned for the forty billionth time. “You know what, I’m going to go home.”
“Back to your apartment?”
I nodded. “Yeah. I’m tired and I want to wake up well rested and fabulous for our V-Day tomorrow.”
“Why not sleep here?”
“Easy access to all my clothes.”
“Wear whatever of mine from here for breakfast and then go to your apartment tomorrow afternoon.”
“Daniel—” I clutched his face with both my hands on either side— “Goodnight. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I kissed him.
He bit his lip, hesitant, but gave in eventually. “Goodnight. I’ll call you cab.”
Daniel texted me in the cab but I didn’t read the message. I just tapped the screen, saw his name, and then set the phone down to rest my head. When I opened my apartment door I was hit with a heavy fragrance, and in the shadows I saw silhouettes of an altered room. I flicked on the switch and in the light saw vases upon vases of white roses engulfing a single red rose. On my coffee table, in my kitchen, on all the tables of my apartment, white petals on my book shelf, and so on.
I clutched my heart, completely in awe and mushy happiness. I walked up to one vase that had a card and opened it: ‘I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart.’
I bit my lip and held the card to my chest. My cheeks started to hurt from smiling so widely. I changed into my jammies and before I climbed into bed I rummaged around in my bag searching for my cell and opened up hub to find Daniel’s message: ‘It was supposed to be a surprise for tomorrow. Happy Valentine’s Day, babe. I love you.’
In the darkness, in bed, I wrote him back: ‘I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart. I love you, too.’
***Can anyone guess Daniel’s actual Valentine’s Day present? Happy Valentine’s Day, Soul xo***