Authors: Olivia Goldsmith
Tags: #Dating (Social customs), #Fiction, #Seattle, #chick lit
Also by Olivia Goldsmith
Simple Isn’t Easy
Flavor of the Month
The First Wives Club
A DUTTON BOOK
To Nunzio Nappi
As long as I can sit in the front seat
A special nod to all the natural-born bad boys who helped with their contributions: Nick Ellison, Ivan Reitman, Tom “My-Sister-Bought-Your-Apartment” Pollack, Michael Chinich, Dan Goldberg, Joe Medjik, Jeff “Ice” Berg, Cliff Gilbert-Lurie, Skip “Bait-and-Switch” Brittenham, Paul “No Coast” Mahon, Bert Fields, Lenny Gartner, Dwight “The-Mean-One” Currie, Jim “Lincoln-Logs” Ragliamo, Tom LaPoint, Jerry “Rat-on-Acid” Balargeon, Carl “CJ” Benenati, Philip “Frisky” Kain, Justin Levy, Andy Fisher, Paul “Hang-‘Em-High” Toner, not to mention Miracle Relocators
—Nissim, Keith, and Patrick.
And thanks as well to all the bad boy wannabe men: Bob “You-Keep-the-Money” Levinson, Ross “She-Called-Me-a-Dick” Cantor, Alan “The Sweetie” Ladd, Jr., Lewis Allen, Jerry “Let’s-Do-It” Offsay, John Moser, Harold “Just-One-More” Sokol, Tony the Line Dog, Jeff Kreutziger, Paul “The Dozer” Rothmel, Ed Harte, Michael “Hatrick” Elovitz, Peter “Overshoes” Davis, Ben Dower, Lenny Bigelow, Michael “The-Nice-One” Kohlmann, Charlie “You-Write-’Em-I-Buy-’Em” Crowley, Mohammed Rahman, Eric Breitbart, Howard “Just-One-More-Bill” Schwartz, David “Oh-That-Ginkgo!” Gandler, Louis “Editors! I-Hate-Editors!” Aronne, all the guys from James Lee Construction, Kami Ashrafi, Efrain Butron, and Herb Gruberger, my drivers from Mirage, Rob “Temple Bar” Hundley, and Anthony “Just-a-Little-Longer” Susino at Louis Licari.
An extra special nod to all the women in my life that have put up with or do put up with bad boys. Sherry Lansing, Barbara “Returning-My-Call” Dreyfus, Nancy Josephson, Ann Foley, Jacki Judd, Barbara Howard, Laurie Sheldon, Jay Presson Allen, Rachel Dower, Ali Elovitz, Susan “Slugmeister” Jedren, Lorraine “Marysue” Kreahling, Sara “The Equalizer” Pearson, Lynn “Have-I-Got-a-Guy-for-You” Phillips, Linda Grady, Jane Sheridan, Deborah Levitt, Kathy Isoldi, Lisa Welti, The Bitch of Perkinsville, Rosie Sisto, Carol Sylvia, Robinette Bell, Debbie, Katie, and Nina LaPoint, Nancy Lee Kingsbury-Robinson-Delano, Rita Benenati, Pat Rhule, Judy Aqui-Rahim, Freeway, Mary Ann Chiapperino, Gladys, Rebekah, and Sarah Ashrafi, Lynn Goddel at Louis Licari, Edith Cohen at Marc Tash, and Mary Ellen “Bring-It-on-Home” Cashman. Special thanks to Martine Rothblatt who can put herself into any of the above categories that she chooses to. Last but not least, Louise and both Margarets.
Thanks also to the Canine Americans in my life: Mish “The Fish” Dubinofsky-Romanoff, Spice “The Rack” Escobar, New Baby “Jelly Roll” Levinson, Lexie Elovitz, and Max “Sergeant Ryan” Delano.
A very special acknowledgment must go to Pat Handly for introducing Nan to Rose Marie Jones, an endless resource for native Seattle lingo and sights. Thanks to the Seattle-King County Convention and Visitors Bureau for the tourist maps, to Jason Stamaris a special hello and thanks for identifying the location for exchange 807. Thanks to Jeff Cravens at REI for helping me with my rock climbing terminology and for the layout of the REI store in Seattle. Another big thanks to Margaret Santa Maria of Eastern Mountain Sports in Manhattan. I’m still not going to use a fefe hook, but that’s a good thing.
Finally, kudos to my new friends at Dutton: Laurie Chittenden, Carolyn Nichols, Brian Tart, Louise Burke, Lisa Johnson, Michael McKenzie, and Carole Baron. Here’s to all of you!
The sky was the same gray-white as the skim milk Tracie poured into her coffee. But that was what she loved about Seattle. It definitely wasn’t Encino, where the sky was always a glorious blue, as empty of clouds as her house had been empty of people. As an only child with parents in “The Industry,” Tracie had spent too many hours staring at that sky. No more empty blue for her. It made her feel as if she should be happy when she wasn’t. Here in Seattle, any happiness against the overcast arc above seemed a reward.
Before Tracie had come here to college, she’d considered East Coast schools, but she wasn’t brave enough for them. She’d read about Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, and the Seven Sisters. Uh-uh. She knew, though, that she wanted out of California and far enough away from home that weekend visits wouldn’t be possible. Unlike the heroine in a fairy tale, she couldn’t say that her stepmother was
wicked. Just passive-aggressive. So she’d picked the University of Washington, and the bonus had been that, aside from a pretty good journalism school, she’d made good friends, gotten a decent job, and fallen in love with Seattle. Not to mention that when the music scene got hot, she’d found a string of drop-dead-sexy guys. Of course, Tracie admitted to herself as she took her first sip of morning caffeine, Seattle was famous for its bad boys, good coffee, and Micro Millionaires. And, staring up at the cloud-filled sky, Tracie Leigh Higgins considered herself an aficionado on all three.
Sometimes, though, she thought she had them in the wrong positions: Maybe she ought to quit the bad boys completely, cut back on the coffee, and start dating the Micro Millionaires. Instead, she got serious with bad boys, guzzled lattes, and only interviewed and wrote about Micro Millionaires.
Tracie looked up at the sky once more. Her boyfriend, Phil, was giving her problems again. Maybe I should quit coffee, date the Micro and Gotonet guys, and write novels about the bad boys, she thought, and considered the idea as she stirred a little skim milk into her brew. She considered one of the chocolate and yellow-cake muffins, but then she scolded herself because they were addictive and she was off them for good. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Tracie realized it was either the thought of giving up Phil or writing a book that made her so upset she craved com
fort. Did she have the courage to quit her day job to write books? And what did she have to write about? Too embarrassing to write about her ex-boyfriends, she decided. Tracie loved the quiet time she spent each morning reading out-of-town papers and staring out the coffeehouse window, but she’d be late if she didn’t get moving. She had another Nettie profile to write. Boring.
She took another sip from the cup and glanced at her watch. Wait. Maybe I should quit bad boys and write about coffee . . . It was all too confusing this early in the morning. She was a night person. She couldn’t sort out life issues this early in the day. She’d wait until next New Year’s to make some resolutions. Today, she had a deadline. She had to finish the article about one more Seattle Techno-Wunderkind.
Then she’d see Phil.
Tracie tingled at the last part of her thought and picked up the coffee, which was now an almost-undrinkable temperature. She took a last gulp anyway and wondered if she could leave work early to get her hair done before seeing Phil.
She pulled out a Post-it notepad and wrote, “Call Stefan for a c,w & bd,” then gathered her purse and backpack and walked to the door.
But as Tracie walked down the
hallway, she was stopped by Beth Conte, eye-roller extraordinaire. “Marcus has been looking for you,” Beth hissed. Even though Tracie knew Beth was a drama queen, her stomach took a little
dive, and the coffee in it didn’t like the plunge. The two of them kept walking toward Tracie’s cubicle. “He’s on the warpath,” Beth added unnecessarily.
“Is that term politically correct?” Tracie asked Beth. “Or would it be considered a slur on Native Americans?”
“Putting Marcus in any ethnic group would be a slur on them. What is he, anyway?” Beth asked her as the two of them hurried along the corridor. “He’s not Italian-American. I know that,” she added, putting up her hands as if to defend her own ethnic background.
“He sprang from Zeus’s forehead,” Tracie conjectured as they turned the last corner and entered her cubicle at last.
“ ‘Zeus’s forehead’?” Beth echoed. “Is Marcus Greek? What are you talking about?”
Tracie took off her raincoat, hung it on the hook, and stowed her purse under the desk. “You know, like Diana. Or was it Athena?”
“Princess Diana?” Beth asked, wrong and one beat behind, as usual.
This was what happened if you talked Greek mythology with Beth before 10:00
(or after 10:00
Tracie took her sneakers off, threw them under her desk, and rooted around for her office shoes. She was about to explain her joke when the doorway to her cubicle was darkened by Marcus Stromberg’s bulky form. Tracie pulled her head out from under her desk and hoped he hadn’t had more than a few seconds look at her butt. She pushed her
feet into her pumps. Facing Marcus barefoot was more than she could bear.
“Well, thanks for the lead,” Beth squeaked, and slipped out of the cubicle.
Tracie gave Marcus her best I-graduated-cum-laude smile and sat down as coolly as she could. She refused to be cowed by Marcus. He wasn’t so tough. He was a much smaller bully than all the men that her dad worked with back in L.A. He wasn’t even as big a bully as her father. Just because Marcus had hoped one day to be Woodward or Bernstein and had wound up only being Stromberg was no fault of hers.
“How kind of you to drop in,” Marcus said, looking down at his wristwatch. “I hope it didn’t interfere with your social schedule.”
Marcus had a habit of acting as if she considered herself some kind of debutante. “You’ll have the profile by four,” Tracie told him calmly. “I told you that yesterday.”
“So I recall. But as it happens, I also need you to do a feature today.”
Shit! As if she didn’t have enough work to do. “On what?” Tracie asked, trying to appear unconcerned.
“Mother’s Day. I need it good and I need it by tomorrow.”
Tracie’s beat included interviewing high-tech moguls and moguls-to-be, but, like everyone else, she was occasionally given other assignments. To make matters worse, Marcus had an uncanny knack of assigning the very story that would ruin your day. To Lily, an overweight but talented writer, he’d always assign stories about
gymnasiums, anorexia, beauty pageants, and the like. To Tim, who tended to be a hypochondriac, he’d assign stories on new hospital wings, treatments. Somehow, he always found their weakness, even when it wasn’t as obvious as Tim’s and Lily’s. Since Tracie rarely saw her family and didn’t particularly like holidays, she was usually stuck covering the special occasions. And Mother’s Day!
Her mother had died when Tracie was four and a half. Her father had long ago remarried, divorced, and remarried. Tracie could barely remember her mother and tried to forget her current stepmom. She considered Marcus’s square jaw and the beard, which, to be accurate, should be called “10:00
shadow.” “What’s the angle?” Tracie queried. “Or can it be a sensitive essay on how I plan to spend Mother’s Day?”
Marcus ignored her. “How Seattle celebrates its mothers. Mention a lot of restaurants, florists, and any other advertiser you can stuff into it. Nine hundred words by tomorrow morning. It’ll run on Sunday.”
God! Nine hundred words by tomorrow would kill any chances of fun with Phil tonight. Tracie looked at Marcus again, his curly dark hair, his ruddy skin, his small blue eyes, and wished, not for the first time, that he wasn’t good-looking as well as totally obnoxious. Looks aside, Tracie made it a policy that she’d never give Marcus the satisfaction of knowing he’d upset her. So in keeping with her policy, she merely smiled. She knew that
would bug him, so she tried to make it a debutante smile.
“ ‘As you wish,’ said Wesley to the princess,” she added.
“You’re the only princess around here,” Marcus grumbled as he turned and took himself off to darken the cubicle of some other poor journalist. Over his shoulder, he added, “And would you please try to get that Gene Banks profile fluff-free? I don’t want to hear about his schnauzer.”
“He doesn’t have a schnauzer,” Tracie called after him. Then, in a lower voice, she added, “He’s got a black Lab.” It was true she mentioned the Micronerds’ pets and hobbies in her pieces, but that was a humanizing touch. Anyway, she liked dogs.
The phone rang, and it reminded her she’d have to call Phil about tonight, but at five after ten, it couldn’t be him. He never got up before noon. She lifted the receiver. “Tracie Higgins,” she said in as brisk and upbeat a voice as she could manage.
“And for that I am eternally grateful,” Jonathan Delano teased. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, Marcus just had an aneurysm,” Tracie told him.
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Jon asked.
Tracie laughed. Jonathan always made her smile, no matter what. He had been her best friend for years. They’d met in a French class at the university. Jonathan had the biggest vocabulary and the worst accent that Tracie had ever heard. Her accent was pure Paris, but
she couldn’t conjugate a verb. She’d helped Jon with pronunciation and he’d helped her with grammar. They’d both gotten A’s, and the partnership had thrived ever since. Only Jon or her girlfriend Laura could tell from four syllables that she was upset.
“I have a huge new assignment and I wanted to go out tonight. Plus, Laura is threatening to visit, so I gotta clean up my place.”
”Famous Laura, your friend from Sausalito?”
“Sacramento, actually, but what’s the dif? Yeah. She broke up with her freak boyfriend and needs some recovery time.”
”Don’t we all? What kind of freak was he?”
”Oh, just the usual ‘I’m-sorry-I-didn’t-call-you-can-I-borrow-three-hundred-dol-lars?-and-I-didn’t-mean-to-sleep-with-your-best-friend’ kind of freak.”
”Oh. A freak kind of like Phil.”
Tracie felt her stomach drop as if she were in the Needle elevator. “Phil’s not like that. He’s just having a hard time working on his writing and his music. Sometimes he needs help getting by, that’s all.”
Actually, Tracie more often felt Phil didn’t need her help at all. While she always asked him to read her pieces, he rarely shared what he wrote. She still couldn’t tell if it was because he was too sensitive to criticism, or if he didn’t respect her opinion. Either way, Tracie felt attracted to that in him. His self-containment was so unlike her too-eager hunger for acknowledgment. He was cool. She was not.
Jon snorted. “Phil’s a distraction from things that matter.”
“Um. Like the story of your mother’s early death. Your complicated relationship with your father. Your
“What writing?” Tracie asked, playing dumb, though she’d been thinking the very same thing over coffee that morning. Jon meant well. He believed in her, but sometimes he . . . well, he went too far. “I don’t do any
“Sometimes it creeps into the middle of a puff piece,” Jon said. “Your real stuff is good. If they give you a column
“Ha! It will be forever before Marcus lets me have a column.” Tracie sighed. “If he’d just stop cutting them and I got a few features published the way I wrote them . . .”
“You’d be a great columnist. Better than Anna Quindlen.”
“Come on. Quindlen won a Pulitzer.”
“So will you. Tracie, your stuff is so fresh that you’d blow everyone away. Nobody is speaking for our generation. You could be that voice.”
Tracie stared at the receiver of the phone as if hypnotized. Neither one of them said anything for a moment and Tracie put the phone back to her ear. Then the spell broke. “Come on. Marcus doesn’t even let my punch lines stay in my features. I’ll be writing holiday features until I’m old and gray.”
Jon cleared his throat. “Well, maybe if you focused more on your job . . .”
Tracie’s other line rang. “Hold a minute, would you?” she asked Jon.
“I’ll hold for Marcus but not for Phil,” Jon said. “I have my pride.”
Tracie punched the button, glad to hear Laura’s soprano. “Hey ho, Tracerino. I phoned because I’m actually getting on the plane now.”
“Get out. Right now?” Tracie asked. “I thought you were coming on Sunday.”
“Face it. You thought maybe I wasn’t coming at all. But I am. I really am. I’m just calling to say I packed up all my stuff and left my pots and pans with Susan.”
“So that’s it? You’ve told Peter?”
“I don’t think I had to tell him. He saw the look on my face when I caught him going down on our next-door neighbor in our bedroom. Plus, he told me Quincy was an asshole.”
Back in high school, Laura’d had a tremendous crush on Jack Klugman. Tracie could never understand why, but sometimes the two of them drove through Benedict Canyon and staked out the house where somebody had told Laura he lived. They’d never seen him, but there wasn’t an episode of
that Laura didn’t know by heart.
Tracie’s eyes widened. “He didn’t like Quincy?” she asked in mock horror. “And he went down on your neighbor?” she continued. “Was your neighbor a man or a woman?”
At least Laura laughed at that; it was better than tears. By Tracie’s count, Laura had
cried fifteen gallons’ worth over Peter already. “So what’s your flight number and what time should I meet you?” While Laura fumbled for the info, Tracie thought of her deadline and her date, but Laura had been her best friend for years. “I’ll meet you at the airport,” Tracie said, trying to assuage her guilt.
“You don’t have to do that. I’m a big girl,” Laura said, and laughed. Laura was six feet tall, and not skinny. “I’ll just take the bus to your place,” she offered.