Authors: Mia Caldwell
© 2015 Mia Caldwell
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Please note that this work is
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book is dedicated to a long lost best friend. Jess, I hope we meet again on a
I opened the door
of the ladies' room, stepped into the hallway, and almost slammed straight into
Mr. Bristow is looking for you!" he squeaked as he skidded to a stop two
inches from my shoulder. He wavered there a second and then stepped back
smartly, like he was afraid of getting scalded.
I sighed and wiped
my hands on my pencil skirt then immediately regretted it.
Water ruins silk, Monique,
I chided myself.
goes three-hundred and seventy-eight dollars, plus tax.
Now I was really
irritated. "If I hadn't stepped out right now, were you planning on
bursting in on me while I used the bathroom, Ben?" I snapped at the
"No, Miss Williams,"
he mumbled, his eyes dropping right down to my cleavage where they stayed put.
I put my hands on
my hips and waited a beat. I'd give him to the count of ten. Then I'd kill him.
I watched it dawn
on him and had to suppress an evil smile. The tips of his ears looked like
candles on a birthday cake as his whole body flushed from embarrassment. He
yanked his gaze away, and I could see the nervous pulse trembling at his throat.
The kid just had a brush with death, and
he knew it.
His eyes snapped
back up to my face. "Sorry," he blushed, and then ran off at a dead
I sighed again.
"Thanks for letting me know," I mumbled, but he was long gone. Ben
was completely terrified of me.
everyone else in this office.
I’d heard the
whispers behind my back. ‘Monique Williams's’ temper was legendary, my reputation
preceding me when I took this job. The angry black woman, that's what I was
here. That was the identity I had fallen into. It didn't matter how hard I
tried to smile and sweet talk my way into a nicer reputation. No one believed
me, and my
was starting to
become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
My reputation for
anger made me angry. How was that for a Catch-22?
So the way I saw
it, I had two choices. I could be the angry, hot-tempered woman they expected,
or I could quit. It’s not like I hadn’t thought about it. I could leave here
and start over somewhere new where I could reinvent myself yet again…
That's what my
father would have done, though. And look how well that had turned out for all
It seemed I was
stuck here for the time being. With my new job secure, I had no choice but to
play the part. If they wanted angry, I'd give them angry.
I straightened my
skirt and slicked a wayward curl of hair back into place. If Gil Bristow was
looking for me, that meant whatever assignment I was about to get had already
aged to the point of emergency.
had two settings: 'off' and 'PANIC!' He was notorious for sitting on things
until the last possible moment, then handing them off to his underlings as
their "number one priority."
Never mind that if
he had just given us the work when it crossed his desk, we all could be spared
the heartburn that came with deadlines.
That wasn't how
that's why I liked working for him. I've always been at my best when I have to
keep moving. A rolling stone gathers no moss, you know? The more pressure you
put on me, the better I worked, and Gil seemed to understand that on an
As I wove my way
through the mass of desks in the open plan office of Auteur magazine, I could
hear Gil's distinctive half-bellow, half shriek calling my name. "Monique!
Get in here!" Several fearful heads snapped around, then ducked down to
their desks in studied busyness.
I sniffed a little, amused. Whatever Gil
was bellowing about, it could wait one more minute.
I grabbed my
notepad from my desk, then checked the little mirror hanging off my desktop. My
hair was on point today, and the cream colored blouse I had chosen made my
ebony skin shine. I happened to know that Gil preferred this blouse...he had
told me himself in a drunken slip-up at a company party last month.
it? But if I wasn't going to make friends with my personality here, I had to
use whatever advantages I had. My tits are an advantage.
Any attention can
be good attention, it all depends on your attitude.
Having made sure
I was put together, I walked briskly over to Gil's office. Running was for
I've been the
main music and lifestyles photographer for Auteur ever since I moved to this
city. I took over the position after the unfortunate firing of a thirty-year
veteran. Opportunity was knocking and I’m the kind of girl who answers.
It was a firing I
had nothing to do with, of course. But that didn't stop the rumors that greeted
me the minute I walked in the door. Whispers and tight smiles had accompanied
I told myself I
didn't care, because I was practically born for this position. Traveling
photographer, working on assignment, blending into the background to get the
shots I needed, those were my strengths and I was
at what I did.
And it suited me
to. Roving across the country, a new city every night, shaking the dust from my
heels and moving forward. That was how I'd
lived my life, from the time I was a little girl and my daddy had us in a new
town every year or so. He called us Gypsies and talked about it like we were
all on a great adventure together. We had nothing to tie us down.
Motion has always
been a way of life for me. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is forever. If
something doesn't work, then you just pick up your things and move on. Putting
down roots only keeps you from moving forward.
Of course, so far
this job hadn't really been moving me forward the way I had hoped. I’d been
stuck doing mostly local assignments for months. I had a feeling Gil was about
to change that.
be Monique knocking on my door," Gil shriek-bellowed. "Monique! Get
Gil," I said, calmly shutting the door behind me. I couldn't help it. I
pitched my voice lower. I always do when I talk to my editor.
I was still
trying to figure out how a man as fat as Gil Bristow could have such a high,
girlish voice, but the mystery of his voice paled in comparison to the mystery
of his weight itself. The man was in constant motion, always jiggling, wiggling
and shifting his gelatinous bulk around in his chair. He must burn millions of
calories just sitting there, and yet he was still as big as ever.
he wheezed in his choirboy high voice as I sat down. "This is a big one.
We are under an impossible deadline, here."
I tried not to
roll my eyes. Of course we were...because of him. I was sure of it. "I
will do my best, Gil." I smiled gamely, sitting down and tucking my legs
smoothly under the chair. "What do you have for me?"
Gil dragged his
focus away from my clothes and leaned back, his voice rising even higher with
excitement. He clasped his hands over his head, and began the wiggle-jiggling.
"How big a
fan are you of country music, Monique?" he jiggled at me.
I raised my
eyebrows and didn't say anything. Instead I opened my hands and invited him to
take in my ebony skin, my braided hair, my full lips and dark brown eyes.
Gil waited a beat and then fluttered his
hands. "Oh right right, you probably don't...."
"There are a
few black guys doing country you know...Darius Rucker, that Hootie guy?"
saying, Gil?" I interrupted. It was important to keep him on topic if I
wanted to get out of this office anytime soon.
right, well we're running a big editorial on Tanner Brock. You've heard of
, though, right?"
passing." That's pretty accurate, though what I didn't add is that the
passing - of his on-the-beach photos in a supermarket tabloid - nearly gave me
whiplash. Tanner Brock was one hell of a good-looking white guy. But he was
also a good ole boy country singer and definitely not my taste.
got this big old ranch in Heath County, Texas. Talks about it a lot in the
story, always mentioning it in his songs," Gil shifted, then started the
leg portion of his jiggling. "I want you to go down there and take some
pretty pictures of the place. Give the reader the sense of Tanner Brock 'at
home,' and all that."
faltered. "Heath County, huh? That's where he's from?"
familiar with the area?" Gil was still jiggling, but he paused to shoot a
meaningful look at my Jimmy Choo slingbacks.
bit," I sighed. "I spent a couple of years living in a town the next
And then left in the
middle of the night without saying goodbye to anyone,
I didn't add.
I would have never pegged you as a country girl." Gil's voice was impossible
high at this point and it was starting to irritate me.
Thank God for small favors.
"I said I
spent a few years there. That doesn't make me a country girl, Gil," I said,
standing up and smoothing my skirt over my hips. "I'm a city girl, through
Recently, anyway. As
far as you know.
Gil looked like he went cross-eyed for a
minute from staring at me. I snapped my fingers at him. "Focus here, Gil. When
do I leave?"
He looked away so
quickly I knew I had caught him. "Tomorrow," he told the wall.
"Stop by and check things over with
Clara, she should have your flight all booked." Gil stood up, though it
didn't make much difference in his height. "Thanks for being a team player,
Heath County. Where everything went to shit. Lovely.
the pictures," I said, smiling through gritted teeth.
you'll have time to swing by and see some of your old stomping grounds?"
he hedged. He could tell I was pissed
"Not if I
can help it," I told him forcefully, slamming my notebook closed and
sweeping from the office.