In Too Hard (Freshman Roommates Trilogy, Book 3) (6 page)

BOOK: In Too Hard (Freshman Roommates Trilogy, Book 3)
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“At least I’ve read your stuff, your papers—and liked them. Most of the feedback I get is from hack critics who couldn’t write a grocery list and so they have to bring others down.”

Huh. That sounded out of character for the person I’d gotten to know—albeit only in the last couple of days, three months of one-sided lectures, and one
Seinfeld
-bonding phone call.

He snorted, and added, “Or at least that’s what my agent and editor say to me.”

Yeah, that sounded about right. “And what do you say?”

Another snort. “Nothing. I just let them blow smoke up my ass until I am properly soothed.”

“Well let’s face it, there wasn’t a lot of negative feedback on
Gangster’s Folly
anyway, was there?” I mean, it had won a bunch of awards and still lingered at the bottom of several best-seller lists five years later.

“Oh, there were a few. But yeah, it was well received. My ruffled feathers were more recent as it seems more and more people in the New York literary scene are getting in some shots about the wait on my next book.”

He traveled in New York literary circles.
 

A vision of Dorothy Parker and her gang at the Algonquin popped into my head and I saw Montrose sitting amongst them in a smoke-filled room, throwing out bon mots and looking debonair. His tousled, tired, world-weary look fitting right in.

It was hard to imagine that he and I lived in the same country let alone the same city.

“But enough of that, I don’t want to get pissed, it’s the holidays.” He let out a little laugh. “Though the holidays seem to bring out the pissed-off-edness in a lot of people.”

A vision of my stepfather drunkenly knocking over our pathetic excuse for a Christmas tree flashed in my mind, but before I could agree with Montrose’s summation, he added, “Seriously. What thought did you have about the Esme/Rachel thing?”

“Well, it seems like
Folly
was compared a lot to Salinger, particularly
Catcher in the Rye
.”

“Yes?”

“How did you feel about that?” I’d wondered about that for a few years, but of course I didn’t mention that part.

A long sigh. I started to lie back, but stayed in my position, not wanting to take any chances that he’d ask if I was lying down and then feel weird and want to end the call.

Because I could talk books all day with Billy Montrose. And it seemed I was getting my chance.

“At first I was incredibly flattered. I mean, I
love
Salinger, you know?” I nodded, but of course he couldn’t see me. He went on like he could. “And then it got kind of annoying. This was
my
book.
My
work.
My
ideas. I got a chip on my shoulder about it. Those were what I endearingly call my ‘prick years.’”

“When was this?” I asked.

“The last two years.”

“You don’t seem too much like a prick now. Are you out of that phase?”

“Depends on the day. That’s why I’m here. Well, not
here,
at my parents’, but at Bribury. I didn’t like what I was becoming.”

“A prick?”

“Oh, I had fully become a prick. The next stage I seemed to be careening toward was ‘self-entitled prick’, and it was coming hard and fast.”

“So, Bribury.”

“Yeah. I used the excuse that I needed a change of scenery to ‘get out of my head,’ in order to write the next book. And that’s true, but I knew I was just one martini-soaked, three-hour lunch away from being someone I didn’t want to be. Because I had the sneaking suspicion that
he
couldn’t write for shit.”

I laughed at that. And kind of marveled at his self-awareness. Given the chance, I’d probably be perfectly happy to become a self-entitled prick and enjoy all the perks that came with it.

“Anyway. You don’t want to hear all that.” Oh, I so did! “Why the Salinger question?”

“Well, if there were all the Salinger comparisons, why would you bait that by having your protagonist named Esme? Seems like you’re waving a red cape at them.”

An out-and-out chuckle from him now. “Is it possible that we really just ‘met’ yesterday? Are you sure you haven’t been organizing the files of my shrink?”

Ooh, he had a shrink—so Manhattan. There was a couch I’d like to lie on with him. And not in
that
way. Okay, in that way, too, but I’d love to hear the deep thoughts he spilled to his therapist.

“Yeah, that’s where Rachel came in. At first, always, she was Esme in my head. But…my own Esme if that makes sense.”

“It does.”

“And I loved her. I wanted to write her, to be her. I could easily spend a whole book with her. And then I realized I was playing into their hands and I’d be crucified if I used the name Esme.”

“So she became Rachel.”

“Right.”

“I’m not through everything here—
obviously
—but I think the dates on your notes show that you went back to Esme. Is that right?”

“Yeah, that was when the prick started rearing his head.” (I can’t even mention what visual
that
turn of phrase conjured up for me.) “And I was all ‘Fuck you, he doesn’t own the name. I can do great things with my Esme too.’”

“Wow.”

He let out a sigh, but I could see—hear—the smile on his face. “I know, right? Total prick.”

“Well…hubris at the very least.”

“Right. Exactly. Esme hubris.”

“The very worst kind.”

“Yes. But I couldn’t see it at the time.”

“Because you’d become a prick.” There was no question in my voice.

“Yes, as we’ve established. So that’s where we left off. With Esme.”

“The ‘fuck you Esme.’”

“Yes.” He let out a big breath, like he’d just told me a piece of gossip that he’d been dying to repeat. And maybe that was exactly what he’d done.

“Okay. One pile for all Esme or Rachel related notes. Future name to be determined,” I said.

I smiled as he laughed on the other end, then said goodbye.

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

 

“S
he’s an Esme,” I said when I picked up his call.

“I know, right?”

“But…”

“Yeah? A ‘but?’ It’s okay, give it to me.”

I was back in his office, having gotten there early, wanting to get back to work. Had I ever wanted to get to work?

Plus, I needed to leave in time to take the bus to the mall before it closed.

Knowing I’d probably be too engrossed in Montrose’s notes to notice the time later, I had set the alarm on my phone to go off in time for me to leave.

I’d been there about four hours when Montrose called.

“She’s Salinger’s Esme,” I broke the news to him.

“Fuck.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said—”

“No, no. I’m glad you did. Are you sure? I mean there’s not much even written yet, no prose or anything, bits of dialogue and character notes.”

“Well, then, maybe…” But there was doubt in my voice and he knew it.

“Fuck,” he said again. “I believe you. And, shit, I think I knew it.”

“It’s just…it’s her. Practical. Unsentimental. Wise beyond her years. Very matter-of-fact. And yet you know she’s going to rip your heart out. I’m sorry,” I said. It almost felt like consoling someone whose friend had just died. “I think,” I started, wanting to throw him a bone, “it’s because of these notes about her as a kid. They just feel so…so…Esme, you know?”

“Yeah,” he said, dejection—almost resignation—in his voice.
 

“But maybe if you just left those out? I mean, some of them even say ‘do not use, just for character development,’ so maybe if they’re not actually in the book?”

“Yeah, maybe,” he said, his voice perking up a little bit.

“I mean, obviously
I’m
looking for it since you pointed it out, and I’m reading all these notes about her as a child, probably right around Salinger’s Esme’s age…”

“Yeah, that’s true.” More hope in his voice now.

“I don’t think you need to scrap her totally.”

“No?” he asked, like I was his editor or something, not just some college freshman who had no point of reference on what made a novel a masterpiece—other than having read many of them.

“But, you should probably go with Rachel, not Esme.”

A long, loud sigh on the other end. “Yeah, I guess.”

He asked me about the notes I’d gone through today and I answered him. I’d taken a stack and brought them to his desk, not wanting to spend another day on the floor. So I sat in his chair, going through his stuff and inputting it into some of the different spreadsheets and Word docs I’d already begun, while he spoke on the phone to me.

It was definitely surreal.

I was listening to him, but my eyes wandered to the framed photos on his desk. One of him and his parents taken at his graduation from Brown.
 

He looked like his mother—very Upper East Side, very Old Money. She was in a smart, cream linen suit. My guess was Chanel, but I’m not well versed on WASP-wear. Montrose had his arm around her, a near-identical smile on both their faces.

His father was on his other side and also wore what looked like a cream linen suit, though definitely not Chanel. Brooks Brothers maybe? His arm was not slung around his son or his wife’s shoulder, but there was a nice smile on his face and he seemed happy to be in the photo.

The other photo was of Montrose and a beautiful young woman, their arms entwined, both looking at the camera. They wore ski gear and I could see a ski resort, and mountain, behind them.

“Uh-huh,” I said to Montrose, not catching everything he said, but most of it. I slid my laptop over and Googled “Billy Montrose girlfriend” and waited. Several times the name Diandra Scott came up, but upon further investigation, it looked like they’d ended things a while ago. And on Google images Diandra Scott was not the woman skiing with him. A new girlfriend? He looked about his current age in the photo, like maybe it had been taken last winter.

“Um,” I said, when he paused, “I’m working at your desk today, and I was just noticing the photos on your desk.”

“I have photos on my desk? I don’t think so.”

“Yeah, I’m looking right at them.”

“Seriously? Like, framed photos of people?”

Man, absent-minded professor or what? “Yes. Two of them. And you’re in both photos.”

“I don’t think—Oh. Oh, right. My mom sent those to me when I first started at Bribury. She sent them right to the office. Probably figured—rightfully so—that I wouldn’t take the time to put up anything personal. I just sat them on the desk and didn’t think of them again.”

“But you must see them every day.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

I was desperate to ask about his ski bunny when he said, “One with them at Brown, right? And one of me and my sister skiing?”

An easing in my heart at hearing the word “sister,” and then self-chastisement. Like it should even matter to me if he had a girlfriend or not.

But it did. It desperately did.

“Right, those are the two,” I said.

“Yeah, of course I remember. Like you said, I see them every day.”

I laughed as I ran my finger along the heavy, expensive silver frame. “Oh yeah? What is your mother wearing in this photo?”

“A Chanel suit.”

“Huh. I guess you do notice them.”

He didn’t say anything for too long. “Wait,” I said. “She always wears Chanel suits, doesn’t she?”

“Busted.”
 

We laughed together, and it felt so good, so right, to share something with him.

After talking about Esme/Rachel for another hour we said our goodbyes and hung up. I wanted to dive back into his notes, but the Google page with results on Montrose taunted me until I finally mentally packed my bags and spent the next two hours cyber stalking him.

There wasn’t much I didn’t already know, although I hadn’t been aware of his relationship with Diandra Scott—a woman he apparently met at Brown and dated quite seriously for several years. If I did my math correctly, I estimated they’d broken up right about the time he felt he was heading for self-entitled prick. So, he’d been a prick for about two years of their relationship. Maybe Diandra dumping him is what made him take a hard look at his life?

Or maybe he’d dumped her because of said prick-ness?

At one time, I’d known everything there was to know about Billy Montrose. In fact, I probably should have guessed that the woman in the second photo was his twin sister. They had a very similar look, though the sister was blond to Montrose’s dark brown hair. But the same eyes, the same perfect smile with blindingly-white teeth.

But I was kind of shocked that I’d never Googled for his girlfriend before.

Well, no, not totally shocked.

It would never have been in my realm of thought that I should. To me, he was the author of the book that changed my life. I hadn’t thought of him in terms of even having a personal life. I’d only wanted to read about him as it related to
Gangster’s Folly
.

BOOK: In Too Hard (Freshman Roommates Trilogy, Book 3)
7.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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