Quinn sat at the front counter of the bookstore, the latest book in her favorite series, Shoulders of Giants, inches from her nose. She wasn’t reading it, just admiring. Though, her reasons for loving it might have been a tad selfish because she was the one who brought the manuscript to her editor in New York. Quinn thought it a masterpiece in fantasy writing, the next Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire. Her editor agreed. The presses fired up. And the first book sold like gangbusters in the fantasy community, eventually spreading through all nerd- and geek-dom. Then, the movie rights were sold. The movie was trash but commercially successful. The second book was also well-received, and the movie sequel was equally trash. But, Quinn, along with Laurie, her best friend and co-worker, went to see them regardless. They laughed and cried, thinking both what schlock compared to the book! and how could they do this? The credits, though, were the payoff. Not just because that meant it was over, but because seeing the publishing firm in the credits overjoyed her, embarrassingly so. Her breathing quickened, her brow perspired, and her cheeks flushed. It was the same as seeing her name in the credits. There would be no books, no movies, no merchandising, no endless array of podcasts and YouTube videos and online articles and fan fiction, no fandom whatsoever without Quinn Booker.
She missed that.
Who was at fault? Jackson Zechariah, her former boss. The type of guy who thought everyone genuinely liked him and his small talk and his platitudes of moral support. Quinn guessed he was either a track star or a swimmer by the look of his build. Jackson always sported enough gel in his spiked crew cut to aerate a lawn if you flipped him upside down. But Quinn knew she couldn’t blame him for all his downfalls, of which there were plenty. He had a horrible example of a father. He just saw what Dr. Zechariah did and copied it, like father, like son. Jackson was a walking, talking cliché whose owner daddy ensured his position as editor-in-chief at the New York branch of Z Publishing.
At first, his compliments were flattering. Just starting out, nervous about being hired by one of the largest publishing companies in the world, Quinn felt at ease when Jackson would notice her hair or her clothes. She just figured he was trying to make her feel comfortable in a new place. But, he began getting too comfortable in his comments, saying things like “your looks are distracting today” or “you’re so adorable.” She felt his eyes roaming her body every time they saw each other.
Quinn knew she could really be in some trouble during an important meeting with a longtime author and client, Sam Lord. Before the meeting started, Jackson made a small comment about her dress and his shirt being the same color. Harmless. Wearing a sensible knee-length dress, Quinn was shocked to hear Lord reply, “Oh well, I guess that’s not what I noticed about the dress,” as she felt the old man eye her up and down, undressing her in his head.
Jackson just chuckled and added, “Yeah, she always knows how to dress to impress.”
When she heard Lord comment, “I always love these meetings, when you bring your pretty little sidekicks to talk with the men,” she had to excuse herself from the meeting.
Quinn sat in a restroom stall on the verge of tears realizing she had no one to talk to. Laurie was out on maternity leave, and every time Quinn tried to contact her, the conversation never got past the “hello’s” before the crying baby took all of Laurie’s attention. There wasn’t time for any of that. Quinn had to vent immediately. When her co-worker, Janice, entered the bathroom, Quinn opened her guts and spilled everything.
“Oh, you poor thing!” Janice replied and helped Quinn fill out a complaint with Human Resources. Her suspicious nature grew sharper because HR never followed up the report. And Quinn was never invited back into a meeting with Sam Lord.
Working on her first solo assignment, Quinn made sure to keep her distance from Jackson and lose herself in her work. She had been toying with the idea of leaving. Shoulders of Giants was a great stepping stone to show she had promise. But she needed to make another splash in the industry. Then she would be easily hirable, maybe even sought out. Three weeks later, Jackson called Quinn into his office.
“Now, um, how’s the Lassiter project coming? Are we finished yet?”
“No, still working away at it sir”. Quinn respectfully declined.
“We need that finished and ready to present in the next two days,” Jackson said.
“I’ll have it done by the deadline, sir. You don’t have to worry about that,” Quinn replied.
“I understand that, but I would prefer you get it done early so I have time to look at it and make any needed revisions,” Jackson pointed out.
Quinn began to tense, feeling nervous about being in his office, alone, with the door closed, she meant to end the conversation quickly. “I’ll do my best sir.” Thinking the meeting adjourned, Quinn turned around to exit the office.
Walking out, her back turned to Jackson, she heard, “Do we need a little spanking to help speed things along?” followed by a chuckle and clapped hands.
Right as Jackson was saying this, Janice opened the door to Jackson’s office with some paperwork. She, too, heard him and froze.
Quinn stood caught in the middle of Janice and Jackson realizing her mouth was slightly open and feeling her face turn beet red in utter disbelief. She looked at Janice and waited for a response; nothing, a deer caught in headlights. No more, Quinn thought.
“No, we do not need a little spanking, you sexist bastard! That’s it. I’m done. HR here I come. Good bye to you. And good riddance.” Quinn turned quickly, passing Janice, and slammed the door on her way out.
The week following still blurred together for Quinn. Human Resources had no choice but to investigate the allegations. They did not side in favor of Quinn. Janice never came to her side, apparently, never hearing anything in Jackson’s office. Janice even rescinded her involvement with the Lord meeting complaint Quinn filed. Clearly, she was scared or threatened by Jackson. He tried apologizing, but Quinn wouldn’t hear it. She was surprised it almost sounded sincere. I wonder how many times he practiced that in the mirror. Then Jackson turned the tables on Quinn and claimed the reason why she was removed from the meeting with Sam Lord was because she was making the inappropriate comments, which Lord later verified. The only thing people heard from Jackson’s office was Quinn calling him a “sexist bastard,” allegedly unwarranted.
After firing her, he made sure she appeared crazy and unemployable. On the train ride moving back home, Quinn read in the paper that Jackson took all the credit on the extremely-profitable Lassiter project.
Quinn closed the book and wiped the tears from her eyes. She couldn’t stand the sight of it. Had Jackson ruined this for her too? If only she had Tristan to talk to again. If only she had not said those stupid lies. Quinn was never one to think before she spoke when tensions rose. She saw that now. She had tried calling him all week, but he didn’t answer. She didn’t blame him. So, she just sat in her bookstore reading and helping the scattered customer.
Breaking her concentrating, a customer entered the store. Quinn heard the bells on the front door ring as it opened.
“Need any help sir?” Quinn asked looking towards the entrance.
“Just browsing, thanks,” the customer responded in his cowboy hat, collared shirt, and grizzly beard.
Content with that answer, Quinn started going through the day’s mail.
About ten minutes later, Quinn heard the customer chuckle and asked him, “Anything the matter, sir?”
“No, ma’am. I’m just admiring you.” The customer replied.
On alert, on account of her previous state of reflection, Quinn pressed, defiance at the ready, “Excuse me, sir?”
The customer could see she had taken offence. “I’m beggin’ your pardon. What I mean is, I was just appreciating your reading. This is your place, I reckon. You must have the best job in the world. You get to read all day, or talk about books with customers. This must be your life’s calling. That’s just great.”
Feeling more relaxed, Quinn smiled at the man. “Why, thank you. Yes, I am very proud of my bookstore. Were you able to find something you liked today?”
The customer set a book on the table. Quinn took his money. They exchanged farewells. And Quinn was left alone again, this time, thinking about what that customer had said.
My life’s calling?
As much as she loved the idea of her bookstore, Quinn longed to be the one who found the books deserving to be shared with the world. Selling books was one thing. But controlling what books made it into bookstores was a power she longed to have again.
Tristan’s book is deserving, she thought. Quinn grabbed her copy from the drawer. It was already worn and dogeared. Quinn flipped to one of her favorite passages:
“You came back?” Hauro questioned his circle of friends.
“Of course, we did, chum. No matter how bumfuzzled we are about our present tarradiddles, we’ll be at the ready to snickersnee whatever billingsgate offends thee.” replied Draven hoisting Hauro up with one hand and embracing him in his arms.
Quinn closed the book. She grabbed her phone and scrolled through the contacts. She knew what she was going to make things right with Tristan. The phone rang. Quinn waited for a response.
“Hello, this is Laurie at Z Publishing.”