Read The Last Dreamer Online

Authors: Barbara Solomon Josselsohn

The Last Dreamer

BOOK: The Last Dreamer
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2015 Barbara Solomon Josselsohn

All rights reserved.

No 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.

Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle.

www.apub.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503949645
ISBN-10: 1503949648

Cover design by Danielle Fiorella

For Bennett, my one and only rock star.

Chapter 1

 

Hey, Stuart!
I read on the
Business Times
website yesterday that you’ve been named editor in chief. Congratulations! Seems like yesterday when we were churning out news stories together, doesn’t it? I was intrigued by the article about your promotion—especially your decision to add more features to the mix. As you may remember, I always wanted to do more feature stories at
BT
. Are you possibly hiring freelancers? I’d love to speak with you about taking on some assignments.

Iliana reread the paragraph she had just written, then crossed her arms over her chest and strategized how to continue the email. She could suggest that she go into the city and meet with him in his office, but it could be he was too busy for that now and would prefer a phone call. Maybe she should just come out and pitch a feature idea in the email. She knew she could come up with a good one. Back when she was a retail reporter at
Business Times
, the chief editor constantly said she had a great instinct for zeroing in on what mattered. And after she got promoted to editor of the retail section, she quickly became one of the few section editors who didn’t need to check with him about stories she planned to assign. He didn’t need to waste his time looking over her shoulder, he said. He knew he could count on her section to be strong and relevant, each and every week.

She switched out of her email and over to the
Business Times
website to see what the magazine had recently covered. The current issue had a news story about a promising fashion designer who had ditched a great job at Kate Spade and sunk all her personal savings into her own boutique on the Upper West Side. Iliana rested her chin on her hand and started to imagine how she might turn this news bite into a feature, just as her cell phone rang. The caller ID showed the number for the middle school office.

“Mom? It’s me.”

“Matthew? Are you sick?”

“No, it’s just that my violin’s in the car, and I have orchestra today. By the time I remembered it, you were gone.”

You drove away so fast that I didn’t have a chance to get it.”

Iliana glanced at the clock on the computer screen. “Can you borrow one?”

“Mr. Finn said the school violins won’t be tuned until the week of the concert.”

“Can you use one anyway?”

“He said if I don’t have my violin here by class time, I won’t be in the concert. And he’s dropping a half grade for anyone who’s unprepared.”

Iliana rubbed her forehead with her fingers. Unlike many of his friends, her fourteen-year-old son actually enjoyed playing the violin. She didn’t want him to be kicked out of the concert—or lose half a grade, for that matter. And she did sort of rush away quickly after she dropped him off at school, along with her twelve-year-old, Dara. She had known as soon as she left that her failure to ask “Got everything?” would mean trouble. She had just been so anxious to capitalize on Stuart’s promotion with a query that could help relaunch her career.

“Yes, I’m still on with my mom,” she heard Matthew say, his voice aimed away from the phone. Then he turned back. “Mom, Mrs. Green says I have to go. Can you come?”

She sighed. “Okay, I’ll be right there,” she said.

Not wanting to waste time fetching her coat, she pulled her black cardigan closer around her and shook out her dark ponytail. Pulled-back hair was fine at home, but she didn’t like the glimmer of gray that showed up around her hairline the week before her colorist appointment. Slipping into her winter boots, she ran back to the car and pulled out of the driveway, thinking more about her article idea. What questions did she want answered, what internal conflicts did she want to uncover? She wondered what could spur a young designer to leave a comfortable berth at a successful retail chain and set out on her own. Why take such a risk, and how did this designer come to be so brave? Was she born that way, or was she emboldened by something in her past? And what if she failed—what would she do then?

Driving up to the school’s front door, she parked just beneath the “Fire Zone—No Stopping” sign. She didn’t want to drive all the way to the parking lot—it was too cold and she was impatient to get back to her computer. She switched on her flashers, grabbed the violin from the trunk, and rushed past the security desk and into the office.

“Mrs. Passing, you’re supposed to get a visitor pass,” the secretary scolded.

“It’s just to drop Matthew’s violin off.”

“And you parked in the no-parking zone,” the woman added, gesturing toward the window.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.” Iliana deferentially pressed her hand to her chest.

“Because it’s a fire hazard, you know.”

“I understand, it’s true—”

“What would happen if we had a fire this very minute?”

“I’ll do it the right way next time.”

“He’s in eighth grade, not a baby.”

“Thank you very much.”

“Kids need to take responsibility for their own problems,” the woman called as Iliana put the violin on the floor and hurried out.

Climbing back into the car, she waited until she had turned on the engine before muttering “Fuck you!” under her breath. Who the hell did that woman think she was? She considered contacting the principal or PTA president to complain. She even began composing the email in her head:
Mrs. Crane’s behavior was rude and inappropriate . . .
But then she changed her mind. It made no sense to make an enemy of the woman. And anyway, she
had
broken two school rules, parking in the fire zone and bypassing security.

Driving home, she tried to visualize the photo of the designer that accompanied the Kate Spade article. Had there been something in her eyes that revealed what she was thinking, a tiny squint that suggested fear, a strong gaze that said she was up for the challenge? Iliana yearned to delve into the woman’s story. Why had she taken such a major detour from a more standard career path? Was she having second thoughts? What kept her up when she was alone late at night? Iliana knew this was a feature she’d love to write. She loved digging deep into people and finding out what made them tick.

Back at the dining room table, she squeezed her fingers together to thaw them, willing herself to believe that Stuart would give her the assignment. She had been trying to make a go of freelance writing ever since she left
Business Times
a few months after Matthew was born. When she had time while the kids were little, and more often as they got older and more involved with friends and sports, she would routinely pitch articles and finished essays to women’s magazines like
Redbook
,
Self, Working Mother
, and
Real Simple
;
major general-interest publications like
Consumers Digest
, the
Atlantic
, and
Parade
;
and a host of others focusing on parenting, fashion, and health. She envisioned herself as the next Gail Sheehy, Joyce Maynard, or Anna Quindlen, a smart and affecting commentator on contemporary life. But she rarely got a nibble. She had queried
Redbook
for a story on a single mom she’d met through friends who was bravely coping with the demands of an infant daughter with significant development delays—but never heard back. She pitched the same story to a senior editor at
Parents
and was told that they had a core group of writers they used for stories on child development—but they liked the sample
Business Times
article she had forwarded about mattress stores, and would she be interested in doing a short bulleted list of what to look for when buying a crib mattress?

Of course she had taken the assignment, just as she accepted occasional uninspiring assignments from the local newspaper, whose editor had heard she once wrote about retail. She’d squeeze in visits to a banner-bedecked mattress store on Central Avenue or the expanded dishwasher department in Rye Appliances and do the writing—a short description of the place, a rundown of the products, a quote from the owner—after the kids were in bed. It wasn’t all bad, actually. She liked writing, and she liked getting an occasional paycheck, however small. Still, it was almost unbearable that most of the publishing world had written her off. Did her decision to leave her job when her family was young have to define her for the rest of her life?

With her fingers warmed up, she returned to the email and began her pitch—
How about a feature article on Darlyn Reese? She’s not even thirty yet, and she’s left Kate Spade to go out on her own. Is this bold, or is it youthful optimism run amok
—but stopped midsentence when a beep on her cell phone signaled that her husband, who was in Chicago for meetings at his company’s headquarters, had sent a text.

You there?
he had written.
Got a problem.

Suspecting she’d regret letting him interrupt her but also knowing she’d feel guilty if she didn’t answer, she typed back,
What is it?

I need you to go to my computer and email me Presentation.docx.

Can it wait a few minutes?

No, giving a talk and I need it.

Iliana dropped her hands on her lap and sat back in her chair. Marc did this kind of thing a lot: I need a file from my computer. Can you bring my car in for servicing? I’m running out of preshave. Would you get that new suit I had tailored at Brooks Brothers? Sure, she was happy to help him out, and because she was the nonworking spouse, she figured it was her job to take care of these chores. But it would be nice if he acknowledged that she might be busy or maybe even just used the word “please.” Sometimes she felt more like a member of his staff than an equal partner in their marriage. The corporate secretary to his chairman of the board.

She ran upstairs to his computer to quickly send the document, but of course it wasn’t a quick chore at all. First she had to text him back because he had changed the password on his computer and she didn’t know the new one. Then she ended up emailing him not only Presentation.docx but also Presentation1, Presentation1-A, Presentation1-A1, and PresentationRevised before he remembered that he had named the right document Discussion, not Presentation.

By the time she got back downstairs, it was past noon. There was no way Stuart’s email was going out today. She needed to be on the school pickup line by two fifteen to take Dara to her orthodontist appointment before getting Matt from after-school math help and taking him to the library, where his social studies group was meeting. And before she could do any of that, she had to pack up some snacks for the kids to eat on their way to their activities, put gas in the car, buy groceries for dinner, and then drive twenty minutes to Tarrytown to drop off Matt’s orchestra tux, since the music teacher had negotiated a discount for tailoring that depended on everyone going there. She had long ago accepted that her own day ended by early afternoon, and then the kids’ needs reigned. It usually didn’t bother her; in fact, she often reminded herself she’d be sorry when they went to college and the house was empty.

Still, it was frustrating—especially when she remembered that tomorrow morning she was having coffee with Jodi. The two of them had been getting together for weekly coffee dates ever since their sons were in the same preschool class, and Iliana needed and valued the friendship too much to blow her off the next day.

But that meant the email would have to wait until the afternoon. And if something else came up, another missing document or musical instrument, it would have to wait even longer. Iliana went to the kitchen to gather the snacks, stopping at the doorway to give a last look at her now-dark computer screen. It seemed she was always in a race to get something done and be back at the computer before it went dark again. And it always went dark.

Later that night, after the kids were fed, showered, and in bed, Iliana called Marc’s cell phone. She wasn’t surprised when he didn’t answer—she knew his Chicago meetings went very late—so she left a quick goodnight on his voicemail. She always felt a little unsettled in the evenings during Marc’s twice-yearly trips there for strategy meetings. She wasn’t used to sleeping without him, and she missed him. She would be glad when he got home on Thursday. She had even been toying with the idea of planning something special for the two of them, maybe making a reservation for a romantic lunchtime tryst at a hotel near his office. It would be fun to have something different to look forward to.

Finishing up the message, she went back downstairs. She knew she should use this quiet time to return to her pitch, but she was exhausted and headachy from all the day’s driving and decided to go into the family room instead and veg out in front of the TV. The remote wasn’t on the coffee table—Dara had probably dropped it, as usual—so she got down on her hands and knees and felt around under the sofa until she found it, along with a few wisps of dust and some clumps of hair. Grimacing, she aimed the remote at the TV and began aimlessly flipping through the channels.

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