Romance Fiction posted May 7, 2018

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
Mild language--nothing graphic

Remembering The Dance

by Spiritual Echo

I still remember the expression on my roommate's face when I tore off the fancy gift wrap from the floral delivery I'd received. Her eyes popped opened wide and her jaw dropped in muted astonishment.

"That's disgusting," she said, eyeing the cactus. "I thought you told me Bill was the romantic type. Roses--maybe--violets would be good if he wanted to send a potted plant, but an ugly cactus? It looks like a giant... prickly..."

"It's meant to, Sally." I laughed, enjoying the private joke between Bill and me--with no intention of sharing our secret. "This plant is the most romantic flower I ever received."

"You must be hung over," she said, shaking her head.

That first delivery happened almost thirty years ago. As I watered my plants, a virtual greenhouse of flowers, I stopped to admire the length of spikes and succulent stems of the cacti I'd accumulated over the years. Each and every one represented the love I'd share with my husband, but of course, most people never could understand why I treasured these plants.

Bill died last year from a massive heart attack. The doctor told me he hadn't suffered; death came before his brain registered the pain. It gave me some small comfort, but I still missed him... terribly. I smiled in public and grieved in private, shedding tears into my pillow, missing my goodnight kiss. Still, like the Garth Brooks song we both loved, 'I could have missed the pain, but then I'd have missed the dance.' The pain was definitely worth it, but I remember meeting Bill for the first time, and recall my impression of him was anything but positive. I thought he was a colossal pain in the ass.

"You're too easily led," my father had told me when I told my family I was moving to the city.

"You can write anywhere," my mother said. "Why must you go to New York?"

But, headstrong and determined, I fled my safe cocoon and ventured off hoping by being in the sheer vicinity to publishers would seep into my flesh and transform me into a best-selling author. My goal to work for a publisher--any position--actually happened.

Striving to be the perfect employee, I arrived early, kept the reception desk immaculate and smiled brightly at everyone who came into the building for an appointment. Occasionally, an author arrived for an appointment with the editor and I'd try to chat them up, hoping for some advice. Some were helpful, or indulgent, I never knew, but one seemed surprised I had aspirations to be published and worked in a publishing house without any success or mentorship.

"'Be creative,' she told me. "Get your book in front of the right person."

Her advice actually got me fired. Well...I guess that's not fair. I got myself fired... by being creative. I'd been warned, first by the human resources woman who hired me and then by a secretary who worked in the advertising department. If I ambushed anyone with my book or tried to circumvent normal submission channels, I'd pay for it dearly.

Part of my job entailed opening the general mail for the editorial department, letters of enquiry, often including a few chapters from an author trying for a contract. Who knew a receptionist was the first line of defense a wannabe had to cross before his story got to someone that mattered? Rejecting improper submissions was part of my job. It annoyed me that something as simple as the wrong font size could cost a writer his chance, but there was a list I followed and I didn't deviate from my instructions. It taught me a lot, and most of my evenings were spent in a continual editing spiral for my own book. I went back and reread all my rejections. Few offered clues, but I learned an important lesson about complying with rules clearly listed on the web sites.

Young and impetuous, at about the six-month point, my frustration at not being any closer to my goal clouded my good judgment. I submitted my manuscript under another name, a house author who'd already been published at the firm. It went directly to her editor's desk, bypassing the open submission process.

I should have been smarter or at least prepared for the consequences. Stupidly, I included my cell-phone number, making an excuse on the cover letter that some of my personal information had changed. A few days later I received a phone call. The editor wanted to meet with me.

Scared, exuberant, emotions that churned as I floated on cloud nine. I knew I'd need to fess up, but a command performance by an editor could only mean one thing; I was going to be published. Wrong.

Of course I knew what Bill Sinclair looked like; he passed my desk several times a day, but he was aloof, unapproachable. But, I'd never really looked at him. For a brief moment when I entered his office, I thought he might never have seen me either. Maybe I was as generic as the potted plant in the corner of the reception area.

Bill was on the phone when I walked in; perhaps surprising him I'd arrived without being announced. As an employee I simply walked past everyone. He waved me towards the wingback chair in front of his desk. I sat down, and took the time to take inventory. Though he might be fifty or forty, it was hard to tell, he had the chiseled look of a man who'd experienced life, defined laugh lines and an expression that seemed like a permanent frown. The width of the desk diminished his six-foot, athletic frame. The office wasn't impressive; no book-lined shelves as I'd expected, or pictures of smiling kids on the credenza. Everywhere I looked piles of paper, reams of dreams, books not yet published, or perhaps in print for years; the messiness made human presence almost intrusive.

"Alicia Morgan?"

It was the moment of truth. Before I said anything, he called me at on my game.

"Or is it Katy Bellows, the receptionist?"

"You know my last name," I said, temporarily side-tracked from my impending anxiety attack. "I can explain..."

"I'm fairly certain you can't, but go ahead, amuse me."

I stammered and stuttered, unnerved by the frontal confrontation. At some point I recognized I was puking out my motivation, intent and hope for a happy ending. Bill seemed to enjoy my discomfort., leaning back in his chair and knitting his arms over his head. He seemed content to let me make a fool of myself, never interrupting until I ran out of gas and finally stopped ranting.

"It's not plagiarism, but it sure as hell is fraudulent misrepresentation," Bill said.

His tone didn't indicate any judgment, and I suppose, looking back, it was my own guilt that influenced how it turned out. Creative wasn't criminal. I felt confused and corned. I came out fighting.

"I'm not a literary slut."

"Who said..."

I never let him finish. I launched into a laundry list of unpublished writers' complaints, attacking the firm, the industry and topped off my feast of frustration by suggesting Bill was a poor judge of talent.

"You're fired."

Simple words with life-altering consequences. Too stunned to move, I sat for what seemed like an eternity before getting up from the chair. I made it to the door before the tears began, but Bill wasn't finished humiliating me just yet.

"As you don't value my opinion, I won't bother telling you why I'm rejecting your book. But, rest assured, it has nothing to do with this meeting."

I felt impotent. I wanted to turn around, march back to Bill's desk and beat the bejesus out of him, but the tears were flowing and I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing me break down. Still smarting from the humiliation, the next day I walked past a florist and saw the cactus. It was this enormous, plump, single stemmed phallic symbol. It reminded me of Bill--the prick--but then again, the wound was fresh. Bill Sinclair was front and foremost on my mind. I marched in and bought the damn thing, even though it was a ridiculous amount of money and the last thing I needed to squander my limited funds on. I wrote on the card: This reminds me of you. The name is Katherine Bellows, the author. Katy was the receptionist.

It took both sides of the small, business-sized card to complete my message, but it gave me infinite pleasure in imagining his face when he read my words. Three days later my father drove to NYC to pick me up.

I had to change my cell-phone number when I got home or be faced with enormous long distance fees. I never knew that Bill tried to call me, or that he'd actually edited my entire book. I didn't find out for six years--not until I met Bill for the second time.

I'd retreated, crawled back home to the nest where unconditional love nurtured my fractured spirit. I wasn't broken, but after healing, I had to admit to myself, New York was in my blood. I moved back to the city a year later, finding a job as a junior copywriter for an ad agency.

My new roommate, a delightful, spunky girl, helped me transition back to the city. Sally's only goal in life centered on finding a husband and moving to the type of community I'd just abandoned. She partied, dragged me to clubs, and when I tired of her scene, she respected my solitude when I retreated to my bedroom to write. My efforts paid off. I began to sell a few short stories. After one I took great pride in got published in the New Yorker, I was overwhelmed by the attention, and unprepared for the phone call I received asking me if I was available for a meeting with Random House. I was so nervous all I could remember was the secretary's name.

"Ask for Shelley," she'd said. I didn't know the editor's name before Bill and I were standing face to face.

"Hello Katy...Sorry...Katherine." Bill corrected himself before I uttered a word. "Or, should I be more formal, and call you Miss Bellows? Unless, of course, you've married since we met last."

"No, I haven't married." I felt tongue-tied and awkward. Why didn't I remember him as an attractive man? "Katy's fine. It's what my friends call me."

"Are we friends?"

Was he flirting with me? "I thought this was a business meeting?"

"It surely is, Miss Bellows. Random House is about to make you an offer."

"For what?" I blurted out, not sure how I got from a freelance writer desperately trying to get anything published to standing in the offices of Random House.

"For your book, of course."

"My book?" Emotions bouncing around in my head, and suddenly seemed to flood my gut. I felt a combination of confusion and nausea. "I never submitted my novel to Random."

"No, you didn't. I brought it with me. I'm going to assume you're not averse to hearing our offer." He dropped my hand, I wasn't even aware he'd never let go after greeting me at the door and shaking my hand.

He was suddenly all business. Moving around the desk, he dropped into his leather chair and reached for his horn-rimmed glasses. "This first draft, beguiling though I find it, is riddled with technical errors. I've taken the liberty of making basic corrections."

He shoved a pile of paper, my book, across the desk. The first page, a sea of edit marks, margin notes and comments, absolutely floored me. I was still trying to process why I was there and why Bill Sinclair had summoned me to the hallowed halls of Random House.

"Months later, I had second thoughts. I feareid my brutality in editing had destroyed the compelling innocence of your story."

He pushed another pile of paper towards me; a photocopy, new edit marks, this time in red ink obliterated his original comments.

"I don't think I understand," I said.

"You're not the only one," he said. "This is the last one I did a few months ago. In between, there are a few more versions, but it doesn't really matter. The point is, Miss Katy, Katherine Bellows, you're memorable."

" book?"

"All of the above," he said, whipping off his glasses and flinging them on the desk. "I'm not good at this."

"At what? I thought this meeting was about my writing--my book. Are you telling me you brought me here to seduce me?" I could feel righteous indignation rising, threatening my lips to begin an encore performance of my previous rant from when I met Bill. "re you to legitimately going to make me an offer for my book or are you playing with me? Is my book good enough for publishing or not? Surely you must have an opinion, as you seem to have the authority to make the decision to humiliate me here and now."

"No! It's not at all like that. I haven't been able to forget you--not for six years. Most women would be complimented by my confession."

My voice had almost reached a scream when I stood up. Agitated, I was ready to bolt. "My book--is it good--good enough for Random?"

"It's got great potential. Yes, it's good enough for Random, and with a lot of work, it could be...."

I never heard the rest. With the limited brain cells still active after the emotional filled fifteen minutes of fruitless conversation, I'd decided this was the equivalent to being invited to sit on the casting couch. I refused to be a victim. And so...the dance began.

Bill followed me down the hall, into the elevator and halfway across the lobby before I actually stopped and listened to Bill. Damn! He was selling the book to me-- talking about love, quoting lines of dialogue and asking--no, begging me--to give him a chance. For what? A book deal? Romance?

As it turned out, all of the above. It started as dinner and ended when I buried my darling man, my best friend and cherished husband.

I stare in wonder at the cactus I sent Bill all those years ago. He told me it wouldn't die, continued to thrive despite his lack of care.

"It was a constant reminder of you," he'd said.

He never twigged that Shelley, his assistant, took care of that chore, an admission she revealed years later. It was now almost six feet tall, a formidable reminder of Bill. The spikes, deadly thorns, seemed to taunt me at times, but, not today. As I looked at the blood pooling on my index finger, the plant reminded me, I'm still alive and have another book to finish


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