This contains both teasers and a spoiler for Webster’s Kiss.
Somehow, in spite of a well contrived conspiracy to prevent it, Thursday finally arrived. I was quiet on the drive in to the City this time. I hadn’t slept well, and I was emotionally exhausted. The highway was hypnotic and I kept catching myself starting to doze off, but as we neared downtown, the excitement started to build again, and by the time we were taking the elevator ride up to Mr. McClure’s office, I was as ebullient and pensive as ever. It wasn’t enough of a distraction to keep my hands from gripping the handrail though.
The two men were in good spirits, laughing loud enough to be heard outside the office when the receptionist sent us in. They were all smiles when they greeted us, and of course, Ms. Williams got her enviable kiss on the cheek from Mr. McClure, who looked just as dreamy as I remembered from our first two meetings. We sat down to some idle chit-chat this time. How had we been, it was nice to see us, etc. Mr. Sanders owned a sailboat that was going to be sailing in the big regatta out at the Z this coming Labor Day weekend.
“Do you like sailing?” he asked.
“I’ve never been on a boat before,” I answered, “unless maybe when I was in diapers.”
“That’s a shame,” Mr. Sanders rued. “The regatta is a competition or I would invite you along.”
“I’ve reviewed your contract, Annie.” Mr. McClure finally got around to discussing our intended business.
“Everything looks great. The first part of your story is at the copy editor’s desk now. It will be published in their November edition with the balance published over the following four editions.”
He disclosed the sum I would be paid. “It’s a generous royalty,” he added, “based on the magazine’s average circulation and the size of your story.”
I had never been paid for anything before except my allowance for my chores, so it was a lot of money to have all at once, but for the amount of time I had dedicated to my project, it was a pittance. I pictured my life trying to live a whole summer on that kind of money. Either selling novels was going to pay royalties that were a little more generous than that, or I was going to enjoy my share of time writing on toilet paper in homeless shelters.
“That sounds acceptable,” I said.
“Your story will run under a shared copyright, which means it will still belong to you, but the magazine can rerun it again if they so choose without requesting your permission. I made sure there was a stipulation that they will pay you additional royalties in such an event.”
“That’s the standard practice for our magazine,” Mr. Sanders added. “Don’t worry. Stories are never rerun and you can forget any idea that there will be additional royalties. It’s just a precaution.”
He smiled and slid the contract over in front of me. “Take your time reviewing it.”
“I’m not worried about what it says,” I told Mr. Sanders. “I trust you. You’re the kind of person who would sacrifice your life to protect mine. I knew it when I met you.”
He made a funny face.
“If Mr. McClure read the contract and he approves of it, that’s good enough for me.” I glanced over at him. “Otherwise, what’s the use in having an agent at all?”
Mr. Sanders’ booming laugh filled the room. “That is excellent! I hope you won’t be facing any hungry tigers soon.”
He opened the contract up to the signature page and pointed to where I needed to sign. I was so excited my hand was shaking, trying to sign on the line with no pen in my hand while I glanced around the desk looking for one. Mr. McClure pulled a ball-point from his pocket, clicked it open, and handed it to me. As I put the pen to the paper, my blood froze and my body froze with it.
“What’s the matter Annie?” Ms. Williams asked after a few seconds.
I wanted to tell her, but my voice was frozen too. “There has to be a mistake of some kind,” I finally managed to choke out.
The line underneath where I was going to sign my name was unmistakable. It read, Signature of Parent or Legal Guardian.
“There’s no way my Daddy’s ever going to see this, let alone sign it.”
Mr. Sanders looked desperately at Ms. Williams for an explanation and then they both turned to Mr. McClure, whose face now bore an alarmed expression. “This is my fault,” he confessed, shrugging his shoulders to Mr. Sanders. “I read the contract without thinking about signatures.”
After our last meeting, he had already worked out his agreement separately with Ms. Williams to act as my intermediary and it hadn’t crossed his mind. I was not feeling well.
“I’m sorry,” Mr. Sanders said. I could feel the office starting to spin and the sounds disappearing.
“This is a legal contract,” he explained, “A minor can’t enter into a contract without parental consent unless ordered by a court. I presumed Ms. Williams was either your mother or your guardian.”
“Couldn’t we just make a new signature page and have Ms. Williams be the one who signs it?” My voice was shaking. “I give everything I write to her anyway.”
Mr. Sanders grimaced. “Another magazine, such as this one,” he gestured to Mr. McClure, “would be able to do that. Because of the specifics of my publication, it would look bad for the company if we entered into a writing contract with someone over our age restriction.”
He sounded very distressed. “If your father won’t sign, perhaps your mother could,” he suggested. “The deadline for submissions for our November issue is almost upon me. I have to have the spot filled. I’ll have to use another story if there is any further delay.”
Asking Mama to sign without Daddy’s knowledge would not only be refused, it would mean revealing my intentions to her. As much as I was sure she had learned from her mistake with my romance manuscript, it was a secret there was no reason to burden her with. The realization that after all this I wasn’t going to be published was too much for me to bear. I couldn’t stop the tears. They exploded from my eyes and I ran from the room embarrassed. Crying in my home, or even in front of Jessi, I could live with, but not this, not here. Mr. McClure called my name, but I wasn’t going to stop.
I must have pushed the button for the elevator a hundred times before the stupid doors finally opened. Thankfully, it was empty. After switching at the twentieth floor, I pushed the button for the lobby and threw myself on the elevator floor. I tried to find safe thoughts that would make the craziness stop, but weren’t any. My mood became impossible to control, and by the time I reached the bottom, I didn’t own my thoughts anymore. I didn’t remember why I was crying except that it hurt. I ran out the front door of the building and instead of looking for Ms. Williams’ car, I just kept running.
© 2012 Anne Schilde