"I'm sorry, where are we going?" Just like that, my one question wasted. And I hate that I apologize. I have been invited here and I need to act like I belong before they figure out that I'm the wrong guy. An imposter. A dupe.
Without looking back, she says, "Conference room. End of the hall." Then, with barely a pause, "Would you like some water, James?" The sound of my name startles me. Hers is Lila. She told me, by the bank of elevators, where we were introduced. My agent's assistant told me it was Lisa, but that's typical Donna. Thank goodness Lila introduced herself before I had a chance to call her by the wrong name. That would have really started things out on the wrong foot. Lila has blond hair, but not so blond that you can't take her seriously. I really like her shoes.
"No. No water, thank you." I can't imagine walking this fast with a glass of water and not sloshing it everywhere, on my sleeve, or— heaven forbid—down the front of my pants. "I'm sorry I was late." Another apology, but this one is warranted.
"You were five minutes early."
Was I? "I'm usually ten minutes early, so in that sense I was late."
Lila ushers me inside the last room at the end of the hall. "Here we are. Conference room." She stares at me, and for the first time I notice her clothes are impeccably tailored. She's serious for a beige girl.
That's what I've heard people call a lot of young women in publishing. I'm not fond of the term; it reeks of an unnecessary sexism. They're called that, beige girls, because they wear understated monotones and sweaters to match. But this girl ('woman!') is a different animal. Power beige. Like a cafe-au-lait color, or camel or ecru.
"It's nice," I say, about the conference room, which is stupid. It makes me sound impressed, like I've never seen such a room before, and of course I have. I've worked at pretty much every office in Midtown in a never-ending string of toxic, depressing temp jobs. This conference room is exactly like any other conference room, with a bulletin board, a whiteboard, a phone in the center of a long table (at least I think it's a phone—it looks somewhat like a light-up game I had as a child), and a set of dry-erase markers.
"It serves a purpose." Her enthusiasm is considerably less than mine.
Yes, conferencing. For some reason I try to sell her on it. "It has everything. Even a window." Then, as an afterthought, "Anyone ever jumped?"
"Out the window?" She is appalled. I can tell. She tucks her hair back behind an ear while pursing her lips.
"It's just... I can imagine these meetings get a little... I mean, I know I'm feeling..." Fraught? Power Beige is just staring at me. "I'm sorry." I cringe. My third apology inside two minutes. "You're not interested in my twaddle."
For the first time in our incredibly brief relationship, she perks up. "I'm interested if you're going to jump out the window."
"I promise I'm not going to jump out the window."
She exhales. Disappointed? Perhaps. "Why don't you just have a seat, then." We've officially run out of things to say.
Which I abhor.
I pull a chair back from the table and start to sit and then stop.
There's a loud ringing in my ears similar to the one I would get as a kid after swimming endless summer hours in Lake George. "I always thought I'd be more of a pills person."
"More twaddle?" There is the vaguest hint of a smile. She's joking with me, letting me know to relax.
"Ha, no. It's just, I don't like it when other people have to clean up my messes." Talk of suicide has gone on so long, it may be professional suicide. To change the subject, I try to steer us toward business. "So, my manuscript. You've read it?"
I replay that last bit in my head; it doesn't sit right. "Not that I think my manuscript is one of my messes! I just wanted that to be clear."
"It was. Clear." Lila picks up a dry-erase marker from the table and sets it on the lip of the whiteboard. In doing this, she softens slightly. "And even if it wasn't, that's an editor's job sometimes. To clean up."
"And you're interested? In being my editor?"
"You ask a lot of questions."
"It's nerves, I guess. I tend to..." I make a motion with my hands like I'm vomiting words. Lila grabs the corner wastebasket and holds it out for me. She smiles again, this time more broadly. I decide I like her; she has the ability to play along.