Authors: Maria Murnane
Praise for Maria Murnane
“Ms. Murnane is one of the funniest writers I have read in a long time . . .”
“Funny, fast-paced, adorable.”
(starred review), on
Chocolate for Two
“[A] dynamic cast of characters . . . and a plot well worth the read.”
—RT Book Reviews
(four-star review), on
Chocolate for Two
“Meet the new Bridget Jones.”
Perfect on Paper
“[D]eftly written, thoroughly entertaining, and so painfully possible in this modern age of competing demands between what we want and what is demanded of us all.”
—Midwest Book Review
Perfect on Paper
his is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
ext copyright © 2014 Maria Murnane
ll rights reserved.
o part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
ublished by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle
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over design by Debbie Berne
ibrary of Congress Control Number: 2013922588
o Jenny—I’m so glad I met you!
Katrina felt cool beads of sweat forming on her palms as she prepared to stand up. She placed her hands lightly on the desk and glanced around her tidy cubicle. As usual, there wasn’t so much as a pen or a Post-it note—much less a paper clip—out of place. She quietly opened a drawer and removed her purse, turning her eyes to the calendar mounted on the wall as she reached inside for her makeup kit.
A small black circle was drawn around Wednesday, September 18.
It was finally here.
She ran a comb through her auburn hair, then checked her face in the mirror of her compact, applying a touch of powder to her fair skin and wishing, as always, that she didn’t have quite so many freckles sprinkled across her cheeks and nose. She added a dab of rosy lip gloss, then rubbed hand sanitizer between her palms before putting her purse back in the drawer. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, sitting silently, thinking about how many times sh
Main statement and supporting points.
Closing expression of gratitude.
You can do this,
she told herself.
After a few moments, she opened her eyes and slowly stood up. She stepped away from her chair and carefully tucked it under the desk. Most of her coworkers were at lunch, so the office was quiet save for the chatter of a few account executives on the phone with clients. Every day around noon, especially when the weather was nice like today, the advertising agency emptied out in groups of two or three or four. Katrina usually brought her own sandwich, however. There was always so much work to do, and she had a hard time enjoying a lunch out knowing what was waiting for her when she got back to her desk. Besides, she wasn’t exactly friends with her coworkers—not that she didn’t want to be. Sh
just never quite felt comfortable swapping stories about weekend exploits or gossiping about office politics with the same people who had to take her seriously as an accountant. And being shy certainly didn’t help.
Everyone in the office knew Katrina Lynden could be counted on to finish her work on time and with a polite smile, but they didn’t know how much she secretly wished someone would ask her to join them for drinks after work. Back when she first started, she had been invited out for happy hour a few times, but she always declined, citing work deadlines, and eventually the invitations stopped coming. It had been years since sh
received one, and she wondered if anyone knew how much she regretted having said no to those early efforts to include her.
She exited her cubicle and began walking down the long hallway. Conscious of her sweaty palms, she wiped them on her pants and forced herself to keep moving. Silently counting each step, she fought to ignore the voice in her head that told her to return to her desk, do what was expected of her, and get back to work.
Just like sh
been doing for years.
But she couldn’t do that anymore.
It was too late.
She and Deb had made a pact.
She couldn’t break her promise.
She walked gingerly across the hardwood floor leading toward the corner office, as though making less noise would make what was about to happen less real. She glanced at the placard on the open door that read
, then took a look inside at the plush interior, which was bigger than her entire living room. The older woman was alone, studying a sheet of paper, a thick folder of documents before her. Everyone knew Janice Harrison never went to lunch before one
lock, if she took a break at all.
Katrina knocked gently and cleared her throat. “Janice?”
Janice lifted her head, her narrow face framed by a chic silver bob and expensive horn-rimmed reading glasses. “Katrina, hello.” She looked a bit surprised, but not annoyed. “Do you need something?” Katrina rarely stopped by her office.
Katrina swallowed, then began her prepared remarks.
“May I speak with you for a moment?”
Janice removed her glasses and set them down. “Of course. Please, have a seat.” She gestured to the black leather chair across from her sleek glass desk.
Katrina shut the door behind her, then walked over to the chair and sat down. She crossed her legs, careful to keep her ankles touching. Even though she reported directly to Janice, sh
been alone with her inside this office only a handful of times in her nearly eight years at the agency.
And never under these circumstances.
She reminded herself about the pact.
You can do this.
Now that it was finally happening, she was even more anxious than sh
“Are you okay, dear? You look a little pale.” Janice gave her a concerned look. Janice was as professional as they came, but she often showed a warm, almost maternal side toward her team, something Katrina had always appreciated, given her own mother’s lack of affection.
Katrina nodded and tried to control her nerves. “I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” She tapped her foot lightly on the carpet.
Janice glanced at the stack of papers on her desk. “How can I help you?” The expression in her eyes was kind, but it was clear she was preoccupied. Things at the agency were always busy, and they had recently signed two new clients. It was about to become even more hectic for the entire finance department.
Katrina opened her mouth to speak but hesitated.
Her throat was dry.
Her foot was still tapping.
“Katrina?” Janice said. She picked up the top sheet of paper from the stack and skimmed it, already distracted.
Katrina took a breath.
Finally, she uttered the words sh
practiced in front of her bathroom mirror so many times. “I
. . .
I would like to give notice.”
Janice looked up, her eyebrows raised.
“Yes.” Katrina felt her head nodding involuntarily in agreement. She couldn’t believe she was going through with this.
“May I ask why?” Janice looked genuinely taken aback.
She had known her boss would be startled by the news. Why wouldn’t she be? Anyone would. For years Katrina had carefully projected an image, however inaccurate, of professional satisfaction. She had a good job, an established career path, and the respect of her colleagues, if not exactly their friendship.
She forced herself to continue, just as sh
“I just . . . feel like it’s time for me to move on, to begin a new chapter in my life.” She spoke quietly and knew she didn’t sound all that convinced of what she was saying.
“A new chapter? Why? You’re doing so well here.”
“Well . . .” She struggled to find an appropriate response to the question. She wondered what would happen if she told the truth.
I can’t pretend I like my job anymore.
I never wanted to be an accountant.
I don’t want to spend my life like this.
How had she let so many years slip by?
“Katrina?” Janice asked.
“It’s, well, it’s hard to explain,” she said. Her foot was still tapping on the carpet.
Janice tilted her head to one side. “Do you have another job lined up?” The
Have you been interviewing on the side?
was implied. Talented accountants were hard to come by in the world of advertising agencies, especially so in tech-heavy Silicon Valley, where everyone wanted to work at a start-up in hopes of striking it rich.
Katrina shook her head. “Oh, no, it’s nothing like that. Actually, I’m planning to take some time off.” Saying it out loud made her decision feel suddenly real, as if sh
just jumped out of an airplane. Or off a building.
Janice didn’t look convinced. “Are you sure you want to leave?” She knew how good Katrina was at her job. Janice’s sincere appreciation for Katrina’s ability with numbers was one of the things that made it so hard for Katrina to quit. Most people just thought she was boring. At least that’s what she assumed they thought.
Katrina sat up straight and nodded with a confidence she wished were genuine. “Yes, I’m sure.” She recited the line sh
practiced over and over. “I’ve given it quite a bit of thought, and I know this is the right thing for me to do right now.”
made her usual list of pros and cons about the decision, and to say it was lopsided would be an understatement. She hadn’t wanted to face the reality of how unhappy she was, but once sh
seen it written in ink, it was hard to ignore.
was hardly how she felt about the decision, however.
At the moment
came closer to the truth.
“There’s nothing I can do to change your mind?” Janice said.
Katrina squeezed the sides of the chair and glanced briefly at the ceiling, then willed herself to regain eye contact.
She shook her head. “Unfortunately, no.” She knew Janice was referring to a salary increase, but she also knew that even a raise wouldn’t help. This was more important than money. “I appreciate that you want me to stay, I really do. But I just
. . .
I need to try something new.”
The look in Janice’s eyes changed slightly. “Try something new?”
“You’re getting out of accounting?”
Katrina could tell Janice was waiting for her to elaborate, but when it became clear that she wasn’t going to, Janice put her glasses back on and sighed. “Well, Katrina, I have to say I’m really sorry to see you go. You’re an excellent accountant and a very nice person, and we’ve been lucky to have you here for this long.”
Katrina smiled. Why couldn’t her mother be more like that?
Closing expression of gratitude.
“Thank you, Janice. I’ve enjoyed working here. Oh, and just so you know, I’ve already finished my reports and e-mailed them to Erica.” Erica was an admin who acted as a paperwork liaison between Janice and the accounting team.
Janice gave her a grateful look. “I’m not surprised, but thank you for doing that. I appreciate it and know the rest of the team will too.” She picked up her phone. “I’ll have Sheila from HR sort out the paperwork.” Katrina knew that
was just an expression. Due to the sensitive nature of the financial data she worked with, she would be leaving today—for good.
Katrina stood up. “Okay, well, thanks. I’ll
. . .
get my things together.” She turned to go as Janice dialed Sheila’s extension.
She was nearly out the door when she heard Janice’s voice.
She turned around. “Yes?”
Janice covered the receiver with one hand and lowered her voice. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
Katrina smiled, trying to quell the rising panic at what sh
just done. “Thanks, Janice. I do too.”
That evening Katrina sat at a high table at her favorite bar, Stephens Green on Castro Street, the main drag a few blocks from her apartment in downtown Mountain View. She nursed a Sprite and waited for Deb to arrive so they could swap stories.
She placed the round cardboard coasters in front of her in a tidy stack.
I can’t believe I really quit my job.
She replayed the day’s events, trying to wrap her head around the fact that sh
actually gone through with it. Her memory of the specifics of how it had all unfolded was somewhat blurred by nerves, but the end result was the same: she was no longer employed.
Katrina found changing brands of shampoo difficult. Quitting the only full-time job sh
ever had? Unfathomable. She knew her mother wasn’t going to be happy when she heard the news, but she didn’t want to think about that just yet.
Right now she just wanted to enjoy the moment.
She took a sip of her drink and tried to appreciate the emotions she was experiencing about what lay ahead. She was anxious, there was no denying that, but for the first time in a long time, maybe years, she also felt a stirring of something else.
, and the sensation, while pleasant, was striking in its unfamiliarity.
How had she become so
. . .
She continued to stack and restack the coasters as she examined her innermost thoughts.
She was apprehensive, for sure.
But she wasn’t
, which she had expected to be, and for her, that in and of itself was a victory.
What she felt more than anything was
. . .
She had done it.
She was making a change.