Even for my mother this was a strange way to start a conversation.
The ringing telephone had cut my shower short. I secured the towel
wrapped around me. "Where else would I be Monday at eight-thirty
in the morning?" A mere fashion assistant at À la
Mode magazine, I was supposed to be at work in half an hour. But
my boss was my best friend from college, and Sam wouldnt
be in until eleven.
why you dont answer the phone quickly? I rang and rang!
I worry nobody home!" My mother was still shouting. I thought
I heard traffic in the backgroundthe same rapid-fire honks
that were coming in through the open window. Why was she calling
from the street? What was she doing on my street? I spun toward
the window, my wet hair whipping me in the face. There, directly
below on the sidewalk, was her black head and bright green Chanel
"Mom? Why arent you in Milwaukee? Did something happen?
Is something wrong?"
"Nothing not wrong in Milwaukee."
"Then what are you doing in New York?" I asked, somewhat
"I come to fix your life."
I laughed in surprise. "And how are you going to do that?"
"I gonna find you a good Korean husband."
"What?" I said, not because I didnt hear her but
because I couldnt believe the inevitable had arrived already.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Korean mother in
possession of a single adult daughter is in want of a professional
Korean son-in-law. This maxim is so incontrovertible, this proclivity
so genetically hardwired, it was a veritable miracle Id
made it this far, to my twenty-seventh year, unhitched.
"Open the door," she said.
The inevitable wasnt my succumbing to her matrimonial wishesI
needed a husband like Gloria Steinem needed a name tagbut
my mothers attempting to fix me up. Shed tried when
I was in graduate school, but Id fended her off by claiming
to be too busy to think about men. Not an entire lie. Though,
instead of studying, I was occupied coming up with excuses to
give my dissertation adviser, eluding chatty freshmen who wanted
to discuss the papers they were writing for me, and cursing the
admissions people who believed me when I said in my application
that I wanted to be an English professor. Id also managed
to bat down a bachelor she lobbed at me several months after I
left Madison. But now I had no excuse, no protection. Almost a
year in Manhattan, fourteen months since Id abandoned my
dissertation on unpublished subversive female texts, I still didnt
have Life Plan B. My job, a stopgap measure, was anything but
demanding, and my mother knew that my evenings and weekends were
I dropped the phone, and tempted though I was not to let her into
the building, I held down the button on the wall that would release
the lock on the door downstairs. I scanned the walk-in closet
that passed for my apartment. Boxes of books stood against the
wall where the movers had stacked them. The bed was a jumble of
pillows and twisted sheets. Clothes, shoes, and magazines carpeted
the wood floor and adorned the secondhand couch. Beer bottles,
some upright and others on their sides, occupied the kitchen counter
like a small army on furlough the morning after. The slovenliness
wouldnt have surprised my mother, but the beer bottles stoppered
with cigarette butts would.
I didnt have a lot of time. It was a fourth-floor walk-up,
and my mother was fifty-nine, but she was in great shape. I grabbed
a shopping bag, and with my arm swiped everything on the counter
into it. The sound of shattering glass was sort of exhilarating.
I was trying to pluck out a plate from the bag, when the phone
"Ginger, you are what apartment? That why I call in first
I gave her the number, but instead of going to the buzzer, I ran
with the Saks bag to the door, down the hallway, and to the garbage
chute. I hated contributing perfectly recyclable bottles to a
landfill, but apparently, when things came down to the wire, I
cared more about saving my butt than the environment. My mother
didnt approve of drinking or smoking, and I didnt
want to discuss my unladylike behavior. It was better that she
continued living in the dark.
A policy I generally adhered to.
"Mom, did it work?" I asked into the intercom, wiping
the sweat on my brow with the back of my hand. Through the curtainless
window, the summer sun was doing its best to make the studio unbearable.
"I still wait for the buzzer."
"Huh, thats strange. Ill try again."
Id managed to turn the fan around so it was blowing the
stale air out the window when she knocked.
I opened the door wide. She was flushed from the climb up, but
she looked fine, the same as always. From her short, puffed-out
hair that made her head look disproportionately big to her bone-thin,
impeccably dressed body, she was, to my mind, the Korean Nancy
Reagan. I took her suitcase from her and reeled backward from
the unexpected weight.
"I have to go to work," I said by way of greeting.
"I happy to see you too." She stood on her toeseven
with heels on, she was a half-foot shorter than meand pecked
me on the cheek. Regretting my brusqueness, I started to wrap
my arms around her, but she shrugged them off. "You wet."
She walked around me and into the apartment.
Readjusting my slipping towel, I followed her to the couch but
remained standing. I shifted my weight from foot to foot, unsure
of what to say or do. I certainly wasnt going to bring up
the husband thing. Her relentless drive to get me to the altar
was mortifying, and her requirement that this hypothetical husband
be Korean put me in a particular pickle, as I had never met an
Asian man I wanted to date, let alone spend the rest of my life
with. She didnt know about my discriminatory taste, just
as she didnt know about the non-Korean men Id mamboed
with in the past. (I didnt dance with them for longand
I made sure they understood I was not long-waltz material.)
I couldnt tell her. When my older brother, George, defied
her and married a white woman, my mother made me promise she wouldnt
lose me the same way. Granted, I was only fourteen when I made
this vow, hardly a legally binding age. But I was all she had.
My father left us when I was four.
She waved me out of the way. Sitting in an elongated triangle
of light coming in from the window, she surveyed the apartment.
It was the first time she was seeing it; Id insisted on
moving without her help. The sun made her squint and brought out
the wrinkles around her eyes. She looked tired, stooped a little,
the way she had after I dropped out of school and she hustled
me out of Madison and temporarily into her house. Id been
planning on staying longer on campus, treading water until I figured
out my next step, but she and the movers appeared at my door the
first Saturday after I formally bailed from my program.
Slowly, she shook her head and clucked her tongue. "What
a dump," she pronounced. A real estate agent, she was probably
thinking of the house I could buy in Milwaukee, paying the same
monthly mortgage as I was paying rent. "You can do better."
"Not on my salary." As it was, she was helping me with
the rent, along with food, utilities, and miscellaneous extravagances.
Fashion assistants earned well below the median income of college
graduates, and perforce lived beyond their means.
"No, never on your salary." She got to her feet and
tugged on my cheek. It hurt. "But with doctor salary, yes."
Here we go, I thought, rubbing my face.
"I got a good doctor for you," she said with the bravado
of a car salesman. It was the same tone shed used pitching
the bachelor ten months earlier. Though back then, I hadnt
been surprised. Id known she would spring into action as
soon as I left grad sch ool, which was one reason Id loitered
for as long as I did.
That time it was over the phone. "Ginger, I dont ask
you to walk to Ohio," shed cooed. "I pay for plane
ticket. Just let him meet you. I buy you new dress." Meeting
me, of course, was to fall in love with me. "He good-looking,
he engineer, and he second son."
My father was a first son.
"I dont care about birth order," I said, stalling
for time. Telling her I was feeling too down to meet anyone would
have been too unprecedented an admission. She knew, though, that
I was struggling. I always tried to put a positive spin on things,
mustering a cheerful front for her, but she called me weekly,
at unpredictable times, catching me hungover, sleeping, or moved
by a tampon commercial. As hard as I tried to contain my bewilderment
at the lack of achievement in my life, sometimes the truth leaked
"You dont care? You should. First son has to live with
parents. You think I only care what he does for living. But Mommy
think of everything." I could imagine her tapping her finger
against her head. "That why you should trust me. I get you
only the best."
"But he lives in Ohio!" I blurted out, thankful for
the escape clause. Homing in on the fact that her network of Korean
acquaintances with eligible sons was limited to the Midwest, I
added, "Im not going to move. I just got to New York.
So whats the point in meeting him?"
To my astonishment, she gave in without putting up more of a fight,
and canceled the plane ticket. I thought she relented not out
of kindness or fair play, but to give me time to get back on my
feet, so I could score an accomplishment, become someone a Korean
mother would consider "only the best" to marry her son.
I was wrong. Or maybe I was just taking too long, because here
she was in my crowded studio. I looked heavenward for succor.
"You dont say something?"
"Like what?" I asked reluctantly.
She shrugged, still smiling. "How about thank you?"
"I havent even met him."
"So you want to?"
"Lets discuss this later. I have to get to work."
She frowned. "But your bloom is almost over."
"In the next eight hours?" As often as Id heard
that Korean saying, the English translation now stung. I couldnt
pretend, as I usually did, that I was missing a cultural nuance.
At the magazine, I was the oldest assistant in the fashion department
by four years. Everyone my age, like Sam, was an editor.
"Dont break up my heart," she said, furrowing
"You came at a bad time. You should have consulted me first."
"If I do that, you tell me not to come, you busy."
She had a point. "But why did you take such an early flight?"
She wrinkled her nose and twisted her mouth to one side. "I
didnt. I came yesterday."
"You did? Where did you stay?" As aggravated as I was,
I couldnt help but feel hurt that shed flown all this
way and not seen me first.
"Mrs. Oh," she answered. "She moved to New Jersey
when you little girl. We always do parknic together. You remember
I nodded. Mrs. Oh talked loudly and laughed a lot. Her husband
and my father had been in the same Ph.D. program. The Ohs had
a son. "Isnt their boys name Bob?" My brother
and I used to get a kick out of saying his name. Bob Oh. Bah-bo
means fool in Korean.
My mother vigorously nodded. "Bob. Bobby. That right. He
medical doctor now. Lives here. Handsome like his father."
"Hes the good doctor you just mentioned?"
She nodded. She must have recently reconnected with the Ohs; otherwise
she would have tried to set me up with Bob instead of the guy
in Ohio. There was nothing like a single daughter to motivate
you to hunt down old friends. I shuddered to think how many others
shed looked up.
"I think you wasted your money flying out here. I doubt well
like each other."
"Dont say that. You dont know."
The summer my father left and my mother started working, I occasionally
spent afternoons at the Ohs house. I didnt mind playing
with Bob when no one else was around, but he was always after
my dolls. He also picked his nose.
She opened her mouth, then closed it, thinking better of whatever
she was going to say. Wagging her head, she instead said, "Even
so, it not wasted trip. I stay until I get you a husband."
I waited for her to laugh, wink, give some sign she was only joshing.
It didnt come. I looked back at her suitcase. She was her
own boss at the real estate company; she could stay indefinitely.
I closed my jaw to speak. "How many men do you have lined
She refused to look me in the eye.
"Lets talk later. Like you said, you gotta go to work."
She put an arm around my waist and bussed me on a spot just below
my shoulderthat was where she came up to on me.
"No, lets talk now."
"No, later. You have to get ready." She started to push
me in the back, steering me toward the bathroom. I tried to resist
her, but she was stronger, and then she started to tickle me.
She knew all my soft spots.
Wearing a long black Narcisco Rodriguez number that was more appropriate
for a dinner party than the office, I arrived at work only an
hour late. All the assistants overdressed. It made us feel interesting,
if not important, while riding public transportation to our meaningless
jobs. The receptionist was comfortably installed at her desk,
busy transferring callers to the wrong extensions. It would be
another hour before Sam and the other senior editors meandered
A better name for the magazine would have been Waste, as in the
brainpower, time, and trees that were squandered within its office
walls. The flagship of Glossy Publishing, Inc., À la Mode
was historically the waiting room of young society women playing
at having careers until their husbands-to-be came into their trusts.
Now the Junior Leaguers had been replaced by their granddaughtersIvy
Leaguers hell-bent on using their talents and educations to help
other women dress and do their hair to seduce a man. In other
words, a half century after the womens movement, the staff
was better equipped to do their jobs, but the jobs hadnt
Though perhaps guilty by association, I didnt consider myself
a defector. Aside from the few ideas I gave to Sam here and thereI
had nothing to do but read the trade dailies and page through
European editionsI made no contribution to the content of
the magazine. I wasnt even on the masthead.
I turned onto the fashion corridor and immediately felt an unusual
energy in the air. The Monday-morning kaffee klatsches seemed
to be talking about something more exciting than their weekends.
A copywriter bumped into me and almost made eye contact when she
mumbled excuse me. Like most everyone else, she was blond and
pencil-thin, but I knew who she wasthe lone fashion person
who snagged assignments from the features department. Paige also
regularly had questions about the clothes she was writing up and
Sam sent me to her office to answer them. Paige was too harried
to read the reports I typed for her.
I hurried down the hall to the windowless, doorless space I shared
with Dakota West. An assistant for nearly two years at the time
that I started, shed been frosty at first. Now that she
understood I wasnt her competition, and what good friends
I was with Sam, a senior market editor on the rise, we were office
buddies. Though we werent so close that I would tell her
about my mothers sneak visit or turn to her for help. Dakota
and I went to sample sales together, and she stood with Sam and
me at the monthly parties thrown in the conference room to toast
birthdays, engagements, and, once, an adoption of a Chinese shar-pei.
The phone to her ear, Dakota hushed me with a finger to her lips
before I could say hello. She listened a few more minutes and
then carefully placed the receiver in its cradle. The red light
on one of her bosss lines stayed lit.
Dakotas enduring promotionless state wasnt due to
lack of effortor even daring. Today she was wearing a purple
and white checkered vintage Trigère suit, red knee-high
socks, and patent leather Mary Janes. Model-tall and -thin with
self-peroxided cropped hair, she could pull it, or any getup,
off. Her unending assistantship was due to the dumb luck of having
a boss who despised her, who treated her not as an apprentice
but as a coffee fetcher, Xerox maker, and all-around slave. Chantal
Lewis was a senior sittings editor, but Dakota had never been
on a photo shoot.
"Nans been fired," Dakota said at bedroom volume,
her eyes bugged out. Nan was the fashion director. "And I
think the evil one is getting her job." She pointed her head
at Chantals closed door. "She was here when I got in."
Sam was going to wig out when she heard that her masthead equalthey
were on the same linehad been promoted over her. Though
Sam covered the market, going to shows and showrooms, while Chantal
styled models, dressing them up for the camera, they were archrivals.
It had bothered Sam so much that Chantal came first on the line
they shared on the masthead, she had considered legally changing
her name from Starre to Cooper, her mothers maiden name.
If she had, Dakota was going to accompany her to city hall to
change her name to AAA. Dakota had been a chess champion in high
I ran to my desk to call Sam. She should be warned before she
even approached the building. Someone from our floor might be
outside, smoking. Actually, a brigade was probably down there,
licking their chops. Schadenfreude, real journalists have commented,
was one of the most overused words in the pages of the magazines
owned by Glossy Publishing, but its frequent appearance was understandable
to anyone who worked there.
I looked up at the clock on the wall to see if I should try Sam
at home or on her cell. Just then Sam appeared through the glass
wall, the force of her strides making her flaxen ponytail swing
from side to side. She was scowling. I was too late.
The only child of the ninth richest man in America, Sam wasnt
used to disappointment. Her father, Graham Starre, was the S in
SDM, one of the biggest venture capital funds in the country.
But she wasnt spoiled or obnoxious, as I had feared the
summer before college when I received her letter embossed with
her monogram. We were roommates all four years at Madison, spending
more time together than with any other person, including her serial
boyfriends. She took after her father, the son of a dairy farmer,
though she got her looks from her mother, her fathers second
wife and former secretary. Sam wouldnt be taking this defeat
"What are you doing here?" I asked, wondering who had
beaten me to the phone.
"Um, I work here?" She was facing me but looking past
I turned to see Chantal had crawled out of her cave. Id
had minimal interaction with her; I doubt wed said more
than seven words at a time, combinedthe longest exchange
being, "Have you seen my worthless assistant?" "No."
Chantal was out of the office on photo shoots more than she was
in, and when she was in, she kept her door closed. So everything
I knew about her was from Sam and Dakota. Sam said that when Chantal
first arrived at the magazine, already an editor, she had a French
accent, which she dropped when Dakota, newly hired, forwarded
to everyone in the department a voice-mail message from her mother
out on Long Island. Dakota swore to Chantal it was an accident,
but their relationship never recovered. Now Dakota was fond of
telling people that Chantal was a lesbian, not a slur per se,
but a rumor that could hurt a fashion editor on the make, the
thinking going that a woman who dresses for women doesnt
know how to dress for a man.
"Hey there," Sam called over, mustering a cheerful tone.
Chantal acknowledged the hello with a nod as she tossed a stack
of files on Dakotas desk. Readjusting the pile of dishwater-blond
curls on top of her head, she sauntered back into her office.
She left the door open.
Sams smile cracked. She quickly recovered and crooked her
neck in the direction of her office. I nodded, but Dakota, her
back to Chantals open door, gave us an aggrieved look, the
one she often made while picking at her tossed salad as I bit
into a hamburger or pastrami sandwich. She probably was hungry,
since she always was, but it was more likely the anguish of not
being able to join our conversation that was behind her long face.
Sam mouthed, "Later."
"Isnt this great?" Sam asked before Id taken
my seat across from her desk. "Chantals so insecure,
she can barely be civil to me."
"Great? But shes the new . . ." Sam didnt
know. It was better that she find out in the privacy of her office,
from me. We saw less of each other on the weekends and at nightpartly
as a consequence of our spending almost all day together, partly
because I found her childhood pals pretentious and unbearablebut
I would always be more than just a work friend to her. "I
have to tell you something." I got to my feet to close the
"Where are you?"
"Just a second," I said over my shoulder. As close as
Sam and Dakota were getting, I was sure Sam didnt want her
to hear her cries of indignation and pain.
I was glad for this opportunity, small as it was, to repay Sam,
to hold her hand for a change. These days her primary role seemed
to be playing my fairy godsister, whisking me from my dropout
doldrums, bringing me to New York, a city I otherwise would have
taken years to make it to, even cosigning my lease when the landlord
insisted on a guarantor in the tristate area. I was grateful but
a little uncomfortable with, or maybe not used to, our unequal
footing. In college, the assistance had gone both ways. My gift
for writing papers had complemented her aptitude for locating
and getting into the best parties. Shed taught me the value
of studying and not cramming, of befriending professors and going
to their office hours, while I explained football and procured
for her the drivers license of a high school classmates
older sister when the bars near campus stopped accepting out-of-state
Okay, I was getting a little tired of being Sams project,
her underling, when we were the same agewhen I had gone
further in academia.
Sam had taken out her cigarettes. Smoking wasnt allowed
in the building, but when people complained about the smell traveling
through the vents, she just denied it was her. No one dared to
go to Helena Boyle, the editor in chief.
"Chantal," I said, shaking my head at the proffered
pack, "is your new boss. It happened this morning."
Sam choked on her smoke. She rolled away from the desk and bent
over. Her shoulders shook. But she wasnt hyperventilating.
She was laughing. "Im sorry," she said, gasping
for air. "I wasnt expecting that."
"Im not kidding, Sam."
"The way you closed the door, I thought you were going to
announce you were pregnant."
I arched an eyebrow at her. Unless she believed in spontaneous
conception, I didnt know how she could have thought that.
I hadnt gone out with a man since leaving Madison. "Nan
Brans been fired," I said.
Sam lost her smile. "No, she hasnt," she said,
stubbing out her cigarette. "She quit." She pushed the
Post, open to the gossip column, at me. "When she read this."
It took me a while to find what she was referring to; the blind
item was so small. It said: "Which Glossy fashion director
is thisclose to getting a pink slip? (And were not talking
underpinnings.) Our inside source gave the rhyme but not the reason."
"Yeesh," I said, putting the paper down. "I cant
believe Nan took the bait." Hothead though she was, she must
have known that by quitting she was doing exactly what Helena
wantedforfeiting her severance package. "It doesnt
even give a reason."
"OHenry was given the reason. Falling newsstand sales."
The art director chose the cover models, but the fashion director
styled them. "It just didnt make for such good copy."
"How do you?"
She licked her lips delicately before answering, "Chantal
is acting cofashion director."
I held Sams gaze until her face broke into a grin. "Ohmigod!
Congratulations!" I leapt to my feet.
"Hells giving us a month to prove whos best cut
out for the job." Everyone called the head honcho that, but
Sam was the only one who said it to her face. "She says she
has to give Chantal a shot to be fair, but its all a waste
of my time if you ask me."
"Whats a month? Let me give you a hug." I squeezed
her hard. She had said she was going to make editor in chief by
the time she was thirty, the age her father was when he banked
his first million, and she was well on her way. She was moving
up in the world.
While I was still casting about for a career. As successful as
my mother was, I didnt compare myself to her, because real
estate, which she entered after my father left, was a livelihood,
not an identity. Shed gone to college, but her broken English
lowered the expectationsand gave her fewer options. She
wound up working in an office, but she would have been able to
hold her head up among Koreans if shed toiled in a store
backroom or restaurant kitchenthat she owned, of course.
But Sam was my peer. The ground I had lost from grad school was
only increasing. And my mothers crazy husband-hunt made
matters all the more urgent.
"Okay, we got to get to work," Sam said, taking out
a pad of paper. "Hells holding an ideas meeting"
"Not to be self-involved," I cut in. "But how does
this move affect me?"
Sam jiggled her wristwatch. "In half an hour."
"I mean, if Hell fills your spot with someone on staff, will
I move up to associate?"
"Associate?" Sam put her pen down. "Since when
do you want that?"
"Since my mother arrived," I exhaled loudly, "to
spear me a husband."
Sam pushed the notepad to the side. She knew about my bind when
it came to my mothers expectations and my feelings about
I recounted my morning. Sharing it with my old best friend was
cathartic and made me feel like less of a freak. I mentally took
back everything Id been thinking earlier about her help.
"It sounds like its time to come clean with her,"
Sam said, leaning back in her chair.
"You know I cant do that. I cant hurt"
"Maybe if she knew, shed give in."
"She wont." Marrying a non-Korean was to my mother
what marrying someone beneath ones station was to Jane Austenblasphemy.
"Or tell her youre not ready."
"It wont do any good. She thinks she knows better."
She had said grad school was a mistake. Her exact words: "Who
hires Korean to teach English in America?"
"But whats the rush?"
"My bloom is fading."
Sam stared incredulously at me.
"Shes not a total throwback," I said, defending
my mother despite myself. "I mean, if I told her I wanted
to go further in my career first, she would back off. Thats
why I need this promotion."
Sam grimaced. She reached again for her Marlboro lights and held
them out. I took one. I probably already reeked of secondhand
"Im not asking you to hand me the job. Ill work
for it. Just teach me the business."
"Its not that," Sam said. "Im concerned
that youre just grabbing for the nearest thing. Youd
be taking a promotion away from someone whose passion really is
"Dakota is younger. She can wait."
Sams mouth twitched. "I agree that youve been
my assistant for too long. This is the prime time of our careers
and youve been pissing it away."
"But you should set your sights on an industry youre
actually interested in. I have connections everywhere. I could
hook you up."
"This is what I want to do." Not a total lie. Just a
bit of an overstatement. I felt I could do many things, and these
past months Id been savoring the vista of possibilities
as well as licking my wounds. But the time for self-indulgent
dawdling was over. "I may not have shown interest, but Ive
"You do have good taste and ideas."
"And I have the big picture. Fashion isnt just trendy
clothes. Its a mode of self-expression, an art. Its
like architecture, where form meets function."
"I had no idea you thought so highly of what I do."
"Editors are critics, purveyors of"
"Enough," Sam laughed. "Youre starting to
sound like Chantal."
"culture. Its a worthwhile profession as long
as seduction isnt the only objective. And it wouldnt
Her steepled fingers pressed against her lips, she looked at me
"Please, Sam. Ill give five hundred percent. Just give
She tossed her ponytail. "I dont care about natural
talent or hard work. They dont really matter hereor
anywhere, really. What Im concerned about is dedication."
"Youve got it."
"Which means total submission. Ill need you to do everything
I felt uneasy but I said okay.
"I mean it. No questions. No guff."
"Even with my coaching, it may not happen right away."
"Thats all right. If I can show my mother Im
busy, shell go home. I may have to go on the dates shes
lined up, but I can deflect themshe cant have that
"Youll be competing against assistants who are pretty
"Anorexic, more like it."
"I wouldnt underestimate them."
"I dont. But they dont have you."
"Like Dad says, work is war."
"I can handle it. Ph.D. candidates arent exactly kittens.
They used to intentionally mis-shelve library books."
Sam looked hard at me. I stared back. Satisfied, she said, "Okay."
Grinning, I slouched back in my chair. Now that she was on board,
my ship seemed less at risk of sinking. I could relax; she didnt
have any showroom appointments scheduled for the day.
"Sit up. Lets get started."
"Either we do it my way or no way."
"Your way," I said hurriedly, pulling myself up. No
wonder shed advanced as quickly as she had. Perhaps if wed
stayed in touch the years I was toiling in my library-stack wasteland,
I would have finished my degree or left sooner. "Where are
"Nowhere." She tossed her pad of paper and pen at me.
"First weve got to cover some basic tenets of office
"Are you serious?"
"Okay." I picked up her Mont Blanc and held it ready.
She took a minute, pulling together her thoughts. She cleared
her throat. "Number one, always put yourself first. Before
you do anything, know whats in it for you. Number two, never
I held my hand up.
"You dont have to do that."
"I wasnt sure," I said, pulling it down. "I
have a question."
"What happened tonever mind. What is it?"
"Have I been breaking the first rule all this time Ive
been giving you story ideas?"
Sam cocked her head to one side, considering the question. "No,"
she said, straightening her neck. "By helping me you were
helping yourself. Now, where was I?"
"Number two, never let people," I prompted.
"Oh, right. Never let people see you sweat. Everything you
do should seem effortless. It makes dumb people think youre
untouchable and it makes smart people underestimate you."
She paused, but I held my tongue, scribbling down what shed
said. Her father, a former marine, was a shrewd man.
"Number three, dont discuss your plans or deeds. Word
I looked up. "Thats why youve never told me how
you moved up? You couldve trusted"
"Four, scrap loyalty. It has no place in the office."
"Even between us?" I persisted.
"Scrap best friends. There are no real friends in business."
She pointed to my pen. "Write it down."
I bent my head and did as she said. While I was piqued that shed
included me in her dont-trust-anyone policy, I was surprised,
and not a little pleased, to hear she still considered me her
"So I should keep secrets from you," I said, jotting
the last period with a flourish, "and back-stab you at the
"Yes, but under my direction." She smiled at the nonsense
of what shed just said. "I mean, the point is that
you shouldnt trust anyone the way you trust me."
"Not that obvious. Youre so indoctrinated, you dont
realize that snakes come in both genders."
I looked cmon at Sam. Most of the missing books in the library
at Madison had been feminist texts.
"If youre going to be this difficult"
The phone interrupted her. The caller ID said it was Hell.
"Shit, the meeting. And we havent even brainstormed
for ideas." Sam jumped up. I rose with her. She grabbed her
notepad and tore off the paper Id written on. "Quick,
give me one."
"Uh . . ." Folding my notes, I looked at her black Ungaro
sundress, then down at myself. "Narcisco?"
"No, I need story ideas, not market news."
Her sharp tone triggered an idea. "Arresting looks,"
I said. "It could be models in various scenes of being arrested.
You know, up against the wall with their legs spread. Stepping
out of a squad car. Being handcuffed."
"With cops in uniforms. And hunky FBI agents. Youre
brilliant!" She turned back at the door. "I just thought
The last time Id seen that particular gleam in her eye,
shed proposed going to Harlem to score some coke. Id
begged off, stunned to hear shed taken up drugs.
"Im going to tell Hell you helped me on this one."
from In Full Bloom by Caroline Hwang by permission of Plume,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Copyright © 2004 by Caroline
Hwang. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof,
may not be reproduced without permission.