“Grant, you’re a thirty-four-year-old heir. For most of us, our jobs are tied directly to our ability to eat.”
“See?” he says. “This is the kind of worldview I’m done with. You can be so cold sometimes, Nora. Chastity and I want to—”
It’s not intentional—I’m not trying to be cutting—when I cackle out her name. It’s just that, when hilariously bad things happen, I leave my body. I watch them happen from outside myself and think, Really? This is what the universe has chosen to do? A bit on the nose, isn’t it?
In this case, it’s chosen to guide my boyfriend into the arms of a woman named after the ability to keep a hymen intact. I mean, it is funny.
He huffs on the other end of the line. “These people are good people, Nora. They’re salt of the earth. That’s the kind of person I want to be. Look, Nora, don’t act upset—”
“You’ve never needed me—”
“Of course I don’t!” I’ve worked hard to build a life that’s my own, that no one else could pull a plug on to send me swirling down a cosmic drain.
“You’ve never even stayed over at my place—” he says.
“My mattress is objectively better!” I researched it for nine and a half months before buying it. Of course, that’s also pretty much how I date, and still, I end up here.
“—so don’t pretend you’re heartbroken,” Grant says. “I’m not sure you’re even capable of being heartbroken.”
Again, I have to laugh.
Because on this, he’s wrong. It’s just that once you’ve had your heart truly shattered, a phone call like this is nothing. A heart-twinge, maybe a murmur. Certainly not a break.
Grant’s on a roll now: “I’ve never even seen you cry.”
You’re welcome, I consider saying. How many times had Mom told us, laughing through her tears, that her latest beau had told her she was too emotional?
That’s the thing about women. There’s no good way to be one. Wear your emotions on your sleeve and you’re hysterical. Keep them tucked away where your boyfriend doesn’t have to tend to them and you’re a heartless bitch.
“I’ve got to go, Grant,” I say.
“Of course you do,” he replies.
Apparently my following through with prior commitments is just more proof that I am a frigid, evil robot who sleeps in a bed of hundred-dollar bills and raw diamonds. (If only.)
I hang up without a goodbye and tuck myself beneath the restaurant’s awning. As I take a steadying breath, I wait to see if the tears will come. They don’t. They never do. I’m okay with that.
I have a job to do, and unlike Grant, I’m going to do it, for myself and everyone else at Nguyen Literary Agency.
I smooth my hair, square my shoulders, and head inside, the blast of air-conditioning scrubbing goose bumps over my arms.
It’s late in the day for lunch, so the crowd is thin, and I spot Charlie Lastra near the back, dressed in all black like publishing’s own metropolitan vampire.
We’ve never met in person, but I double-checked the Publishers Weekly announcement about his promotion to executive editor at Wharton House Books and committed his photograph to memory: the stern, dark brows; the light brown eyes; the slight crease in his chin beneath his full lips. He has the kind of dark mole on one cheek that, if he were a woman, would definitely be considered a beauty mark.
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