I always thought of myself as a pretty adventurous person, but ever since my best friend Allie ran off to become queen of the werewolves out in the woods, my life has seemed downright dull by comparison.
Still, the date I was currently on was making running off to the woods seem like a tantalizing prospect.
Brendan, who had arrived twenty minutes late, was at least ten years older and fifty percent balder than his profile picture. Still, I believe in giving people a chance, so I sat politely and listened to his riveting story about the time he thought he lost his shoe but he didn’t really.
“So then, I looked under the bed, and it was there all along! Can you believe it?” he guffawed, taking another bite of his burger. “But enough about me,” he said. “What do you do, Sarah?” Or at least, I think that’s what he said. It was hard to tell through the chewed-up burger.
“I’m a junior reporter for the Watcher,” I said, wishing desperately that I had brought some earplugs.
He looked puzzled for a moment, then his eyes lit up. “Ooh, that indie newspaper? Right. Cool stuff. Do you get to go to a lot of neat concerts?”
It was a fair question, and one I got asked pretty often. The Watcher focused on nightlife, but also local politics and other happenings. They also covered “racy” things from time to time that the big local family-friendly paper couldn’t do: burlesque shows, fetish events, and other not safe for work stuff. The paper had also won some local fame for being the first to uncover a blackmailing scheme at the mayor’s office. It should have been an exciting place to work.
Unfortunately, I mostly got sent to cover the tiny local government stuff, which meant the occasional PTA meeting, mind-numbingly boring hearings over who owned two inches of lawn at the suburban courts, and the always-exciting assignment of fetching the editor’s morning Starbucks order. I gave it all my best shot anyway, hoping for a promotion to a better beat, but so far no luck. But Brendan didn’t need to know that.
In fact, I thought I had given him enough of a chance. There was no compatibility here, that was clear. And if I had to listen to one more minute of chewing I was going to go nuts. I unzipped my wallet and slid a few bills under my plate. “Look, it was nice meeting you, but I don’t see this going anywhere.”
His eyes widened, then narrowed. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” I said. I bit back the urge to add an ‘I’m sorry.’ I had decided after my last boyfriend that I was done apologizing for what I meant.
Brendan shook his head, an ugly sneer on his lips. “I waste my time coming out here and talking to you and this is the thanks I get? Do you think you’re some sort of prize, Sarah?” He scoffed. “I mean, the only reason I agreed to meet you is because you looked desperate. Easy.”
I shoved my chair back and grabbed my purse, determined not to let him see how much that hurt. I wanted to shoot back something witty and mean, but my mind was blanking. People at other tables were starting to glance over, but nobody said anything. Nobody spoke up.
“That’s right, walk away,” he hissed. “I wouldn’t have slept with you anyway. Not even if you begged.”
I hated myself for the sting of tears that started in my eyes, but I couldn’t stop them. I stumbled my way through the restaurant and out into the cool night air. I found my car, checking behind me the whole way to make sure I wasn’t being followed, climbed in, and locked the doors. When I had calmed down enough to drive, I floored it out of the parking lot, wanting to put everything about that place behind me.
As I drove home, my sadness turned to rage. That’s it. I’d had it. I was done. No more men. I was going to focus on myself and my career and not put myself through this crap anymore. It wasn’t worth it. And if I put as much time into my job as I did these lame tinder dates, I was sure to see some improvement, right?
Having a plan calmed me down a little bit, but I still felt depressed. Lucky for me, there was one person I could always count on to cheer me up. And although she wasn’t at the apartment anymore, she was only a phone call away.
* * *
Safe at home, I kicked off my heels, poured myself a glass of wine and dialed the number. The rings sounded crackly, a sign that the connection wasn’t great. But I was glad it was there at all. And then she picked up.
“Sarah!” Even over the phone, I could tell Allie was smiling. “How are you, sweetie?” Hearing her voice was like a warm hug, and I felt myself get teary-eyed again.
After becoming Queen, Allie had insisted that her Pack get a satellite phone so she could stay in touch with me. I had been so happy for her when she told me she had found her mates and her true place in the world, but part of me selfishly worried she would disappear into her new life and not look back. So it meant the world to me that we still talked every week. Queen or no, she was my best friend, and I could always tell her everything.
I had stayed silent too long. “Sarah? Are you there?” she asked, sounding worried.
“I’m here.” I hadn’t intended to dump all my problems on her right off, but the warmth in her voice made my throat tighten. “I’m not great,” I said, unable to keep my voice from breaking.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “I’m so sorry. What’s going on?”
As I recalled the ugly events of the date, Allie growled softly in disgust. “What a moron. Sounds like he was insecure about himself and took it out on you.”
“I knew he was being an ass, but it still hurt.” I swallowed hard, willing myself to let it go.
“Oh, I wish I could be there to hug you,” she said sadly. “I need to come out for a visit soon. Or maybe you could come here. There are a few cute single males in the Pack, you know…”
I had to smile at her effort to cheer me up. “I’m not sure I’m cool enough to date a werewolf.”
“Hey, you are super cool,” Allie countered. “And one day you’ll find a guy who recognizes how awesome you are. Or three.”
I giggled. “I don’t know about that. I don’t know how you do it, Allie.” The truth was, I had privately wondered what it would be like. All those hands, all those mouths, all those… personalities. I could feel my cheeks heating up at the thought.
She laughed. “I think more guys are open to it than you’d think. Especially non-human guys, if you’re into that.”
Oh, I was into it all right. But if I couldn’t even find one good guy to date, what were the chances of finding more? Still, I knew she was trying to cheer me up, so I wasn’t going to be negative the whole call. “Maybe I’ll look into it,” I said. “Anyway. Enough about my silly love life. Tell me how you’ve been. How’s the territory expansion coming?”
As Allie happily chatted away about her life with the Pack, I felt a slight twinge of envy. I was truly happy for her, but part of me wished I could have that kind of adventure too.
After an hour of chat and another glass of wine, I was feeling better about the world in general. “Take care of yourself, Sarah,” Allie said. “You know I’m out here cheering for you.”
“I know. Say hi to all those cute mates of yours for me,” I said.
She laughed. “I will. Good luck with your review tomorrow with your editor. I want to hear all about it, ok?”
Hell. In the drama of the evening, I had forgotten all about it. I wished her good night and hung up, my mind racing.
Now that I had taken myself out of the dating pool, I would have a lot of time to focus on my career. And if I was going to get anywhere beyond PTA meetings and suburban lawn lawsuits, I had to put myself out there.
Maybe it wouldn’t be an adventure like Allie’s. But I could change my life too. I just needed to have the guts to try.
* * *
The next morning, I waited my turn to be called into the editor’s office. My little cubicle never seemed so small. If I had any room, I would have been pacing. At long last, Reggie, the editor’s assistant, poked his head around the wall. “Sarah? You’re up.”
I followed him down the hall, wiping my sweating palms on my jeans. I’d never been good at this kind of thing, asking for promotions. No wonder I was stuck covering the lame stuff. Well, hopefully today would change things.
Reggie gave me a strange look. “You feeling ok? You look a little… fired up.”
“I’m fine.” I forced myself to give him a calm smile. “Just excited.”
He scoffed. “Don’t get too excited. All the good assignments are gone.” He gave me a little smirk like he enjoyed busting my bubble, and he ushered me into the editor’s room. “Sarah’s here, Ms. Colbern.”
As I stepped into her office, I was, as always, reminded of my complete awe of Kennedy Colbern. She was one of those people who seemed effortlessly cool, with her mane of magenta curls, perfectly undone eyeliner, and amazing fashion sense that blended punk rock with office chic. Not to mention she was the one who had broken the blackmail scandal in the mayor’s office all those years ago. In short, she was a complete badass.
Unfortunately, she barely knew who I was. But I hoped to change that today.
She glanced up from her keyboard and nodded. “It’s… Sarah, right?”
The hesitation wasn’t a good sign, but I smiled anyway. “That’s right.”
“And you do… what again?”
“Local government. Mostly the ‘burbs.”
She nodded distractedly, glancing back at her monitor. “That’s fine. Feeling good about it?”
Now was my chance. I took a deep breath. “Well, I do like writing for the Watcher, but I was hoping for a more challenging beat.”
Kennedy arched an eyebrow. “How long have you been working for us?”
“Almost a year.”
“That’s not long in the grand scheme of things.” She clicked her mouse and a window popped up on her screen. I could see it was a list of my recent articles, and I knew as well as she did that none of them were exactly Pulitzer material. “Besides,” she continued, “I’m not sure you’re ready for much more. I mean, going from PTA to something else would be a big step.”
“But how can I prove I’m ready if you don’t give me a shot?” The question came out more irritated than I intended, and she looked surprised.
“I’m sorry,” I said, breaking my rule about apologizing. “It’s just… I’m ready for a challenge.”
The editor stared at me in silence, as if seeing me for the first time. I forced myself to look back at her, hoping I looked more confident than I felt.
After a long moment, she laughed to herself. I didn’t understand what the joke was. “Well, there is one thing,” Kennedy said as she slid a piece of paper across the desk to me. “But I don’t think you’ll like it.”