This romance short story is not set in any particular region.
Anne Oliver sat at her desk, looking out from the office window she could view the skyscrapers in Medville. Being a best-selling historical fiction writer gave her some privileges in her career, but she knew you couldn't buy happiness. Anne had her share of detractors and critics in her early years, and those knocks still bore the scars on her confidence.
Fortune had favored Anne, at the point of giving up writing, she entered one final writing contest out of desperation. The prize was a prestigious contract with a top publishing house, although she'd never written historical fiction before - she gained her reputation writing Gothic Romances - she decided with nothing to lose to have a go. Much to her surprise, although she didn't win the contest, her entry so impressed the judges they offered her a contract.
Anne's best friend is her agent, Paula Clark. Paula got offered the job of a publicist at a new firm in Medville and was on the lookout for new writers to impress her bosses. Being a fan of Anne's writing, Paula asked Anne if she would like to be her client for the firm.
Not sure what to make of the newcomer to the scene, the bosses at MedHis Press were a little dubious about Paula's choice of her friend as a client, but they decided to give Anne the chance to prove herself, and they never looked back, as her stature grew so did the firm. Now MedHis is one of the most famous publishers in Medville.
Anne has a deluxe apartment in one of the wealthiest areas of the city, filled with her awards and cases full of her books but her heart was not in the city. She had been brought up in Medville, but she longed for the days when her family visited their lodge in the mountains. Her career meant she had little time for such luxuries as time off, and being a writer, even if she took the occasional day off work she was still thinking of storylines. Often, Anne wondered what it would be like to be able to relax her mind and enjoy life.
From her office, Anne could see all the neon signs flashing their endless messages for merchandise, and the latest shows and films. The high life isn't all it's cracked up to be she thought, and I spend my days writing about the lives and loves of my reader's heroes and heroines and rarely get the opportunity to enjoy the gains of my work. Perhaps, after the next release, I'll take a week off to visit the lodge.
As if to remind her of her obligation to the reality of life, the phone on the desk rang, she picked the receiver up and replied, "Anne Oliver, how may I help you?"
The voice on the other end was the familiar voice of her friend, Paula, "Hi, Anne, how are you fixed for dinner tonight?"
Anne thought for a while and checked her diary. Paula usually kept track of Anne's meetings, but sometimes Anne booked one, or two, without telling her friend. It was her way of having a little freedom, and Paula accepted the way Anne did things. Anne took a glance at her calendar, and then said, "I'm free tonight, Paula, what's on your mind?"
Paula flicked through the book of addresses in front of her, and then replied, "I thought we could have a drink and a meal to discuss a new proposal that was put to me, to put to you."
Anne glanced at the rooftops of the buildings in her view, lost in thought for a minute, and then replied, "Yeah, I'm okay with that idea. Shall we say 8:00 at the Freemont Parlour Lounge."
Paula gently smiled, and replied, "8:00 it is.
Anne sighed, "I know, Paula, I thought, this time, I might be able to take some time off; I feel jaded, and I worry that my tiredness will affect my writing, and the sales will fall drastically. I don't want to disappoint my readers."
Paula giggled, and then said, "Anne, have you ever let the readers down?"
Anne thought for a moment, and the replied, "Not as far as I can recall, but there's always a first time, Paula."
Paula smoothed her skirt, and replied, "I can tell you, your books are selling better than ever, we have mass pre-orders for your next book, and only you know when it will be out. I know you like to keep things close to your chest, but a little warning would be nice. That way we can book some promotional tours to coincide with the launch before you say it - I know you don't like signings, Anne. So, we're okay for tonight, 8:00 at the Freemont, be there, or be square," Paula quipped as she put the phone in her office down.
Anne looked at her watch and thought It's 11:00, I could do with a coffee break, my back hurts, and the walk to the canteen will ease the pain. She put the phone down and walked across to the door to the outer office.
As she opened the door, her secretary, June Prince, handed her a file, and asked, "Are you going to be out for long, you have an 11:20 appointment with John Clark, Miss Oliver?"
Anne smiled and then replied, "No, Janet, I'm only going to get a coffee in the canteen. I'll be back in ten minutes."
Anne took the file from her secretary and walked to the elevator. Her office at MedHis was plush, but she had always been a simple girl at heart. Her heart was never entirely in the cold world of industry, and commerce. She longed for peace and the calm of her family's lodge in the mountains. There was no doubt in her mind, signing the contract five years ago was the best choice she'd made, but she still thought Is this what I have become? Has money become so important that I've lost my personality?
She was still thinking about the problem when the doors opened, and in walked Del Lambert, head of Historical Fiction for MedHis. "Hey, Anne, how is the new book coming?" he asked as she looked at her folder.
Anne's mind blanked for a moment, before she replied, "Hi, Del, I think the book is coming on well, but I am not sure of my plot."
He smiled, as he pushed the button to the floor, he was going to, and then replied, "With your style, Anne, I'm sure you'll be onto another winner. I don't know how you writers think up your plots, but I'm glad you're on our team."
She leaned on the back of the carriage, and then commented, "Thinking up the plot is the easy part, the problem comes when I try to transfer my thoughts to words on a laptop. I am not doing well this week. I think I'll take a few days off after our staff meeting tomorrow, Del."
The carriage slowed, and came to a stop, as the doors opened, Del remarked, "I can't say I blame you, Anne. You've been working hard for a long time, and a rest will do you good."
The elevator reached the canteen, and Anne got out. Behind her, the soft swish of the door and the flashing light indicated the elevator was continuing its never-ending routine, just like me, she thought. Anne walked to the canteen, her mind was half on her work, and a half of what Paula wanted to talk about at their meeting, She was sitting having her coffee when her cell phone beeped, She looked at the caller ID, and then replied, "What's up, June? I won't be long; I need a short break because I think I have a migraine coming on."
June's formal but relaxed voice replied, "Miss Oliver, Paula called to say if you have some time, can you see her?"
Anne turned the cup on the table, and pondered What is so important that it can't wait until tonight? Then, she snapped back to the present, and replied to June's question, "I have a canceled appointment, don't I, June? I'll see her then."
Across the phone, Anne could hear June rifling through the diary for the day, then June replied, "Yes, Mr.Connor canceled the meeting at 4:30. I'll call Paula, and tell her the time you'll be over, see you soon, Miss Oliver."
Anne sat sipping her coffee, and thinking about the message, What could Paula want to see me for so urgently? We're meeting tonight; surely it could have waited a few hours. She returned to her office for the meeting with Mr. Clark; there was nothing spectacular to the meeting, it was their monthly sales report, as yet there hadn't been a bad month, but Anne knew one would come sooner or later.
During work hours, Anne's and Paula's paths rarely crossed. They'd both come down to buy a baguette, but never at the same time, some days, Anne would work through her lunch and get a meal at her home.
The afternoon meetings passed without incident, and then came the time to see Paula, "I'm going to see Paula. I'll go straight home afterward, so once you've finished the current job, you can close for the day, June."
Although she was a fair boss, Anne was a hard driven person, and time off was rare, June smiled, and then replied, "Thank you, Miss Oliver. I'll see you tomorrow."
Anne left her office, on her way to Paula's office three floors up, she called to say she was on her way. Paula's reply was shocking, "Hi, Anne, what do you mean? I never phoned your office. If I'd wanted to talk to you, I could have waited a few hours, until our dinner date. As you're on the way, you may as well come."
The elevator doors opened, and a puzzled Paula greeted her friend, "I don't know who called your office, but they did me a favor, Anne."
Anne smiled, and then said, "Oh, why's that?"
Paula took her friend by the arm and led her into the office after they'd gone in, she closed the door, and said, "I was going to call you. I've heard a rumor the firm is expanding and is need of an overseas buyer. Dave and Mel are thinking of asking us to meet a new client next month. This meeting could be an important contract deal, Anne."
Anne walked over to the window that looked out on the snowy mountains of the region and thought I'd give anything to take a break now; I'm so tired, I can't think straight. Then, she turned back to Paula, and said, "I suppose this meeting will involve a flight."
Paula giggled, and then replied, "I know how you feel about flying, but you said you enjoyed the last flight you took, and that was a long flight."
Anne paused in her thoughts as she thought of the trip, and then replied, "I'd have enjoyed it more if the man next to me hadn't been watching that boring film. I could relax to read, and after not feeling well before the flight, it wasn't a good start to the trip. Can't we take the coach? I'd feel easier in my mind."
Paula patted her friend on the shoulder, and commented, "A three-hour flight against a two-day coach trip, I don't think that's a question to ask, Anne. We'll be up and over before you realize we've taken off, don't worry about the flight."
Anne smiled weakly and replied, "logically there is no question to answer, I know that but fear is not logical, and I have a phobia of flying. The aversion stems from thinking of being in a metal tube flying thousands of feet above the ground. I realize the crew is well-trained and very capable at their jobs, but it does little for my nerves."
Paula smiled sweetly, then commented, "Don't worry, an aversion to flying is very common. Even after all these years, people cannot stop worrying about a flight, despite knowing that all over the globe planes are taking off and landing by the thousand each hour. You're in good company." There was a pause, then Paula continued, "To be honest, I put a brave face on, but I am not happy about the idea either, but we have a business deal to settle, and business won't wait, Anne. Our short hop to Hadleyville won't delay your planned vacation too long. Once we ink this deal, you can relax and enjoy the mountain air you miss so much. I know you don't think I notice, as we rarely cross at work, but when we do, I can't help seeing a forlorn look in your eye, as you wish for the simple, peaceful life back at the lodge."
Anne tried to appear calm as she brushed some hair from her face, but it didn't work. "I never realized I was that obvious, Paula."
Paula smiled and whispered, "You aren't, but I'm your best friend and know you better than anyone else. I can see through your facade to the young girl who wants to be back in the woods watching birds and squirrels at play."
"Nothing gets past you, Paula. I miss my time at the lodge so much. This highlife is good for short periods, but in the last few months, I find I need some peace back in my life."
"I can understand how you feel, Anne, I was like you when I arrived in Medville. It took me over a year to stop thinking about my home on the coast. I still miss our house, but I came to realize that to get on I had to fight the urge to go back, and here I am, a successful agent for a publisher. Don't think I don't dream about going back, I often do, but I've made a new life, and friends here. I may desire to return to the coast. I know it's only a dream as I am too busy here."
Anne sighed, "If the boss wants me to fly out to Hadleyville for a day or two, then I'll have to go, whether I like it or not. You never know, I could end up enjoying this flight, after all, I won't be on my own this time. The latest news I had from the nearby area is there is the possibility of a helipad going to be built not far from our lodge. The locals are hoping to get tourists in to boost the area's dying infrastructure; all I hope is the tourists don't destroy the beauty and peace we have out there."
Paula sighed and commented, "That is the problem, we need the money, but often the community life suffers as a result. I can recall one instance close to where I was born; the tourists came by the thousands and turned the small roads into mud tracks and deep holes, before long not even a four-wheel drive truck could make the journey. After that, all the money they brought in was used to rebuild the roads, the people who were affected never saw a dime for their troubles. Enough about economics, it's a boring subject to me. We're booked on the early flight tomorrow morning, so we should be in Hadleyville for lunch and have time to relax before the meeting. This meeting could be your big moment, Anne, who knows where you can go once you ink the deal."
Anne smiled back, the commented, "It could be our moment, as I said before where I go, you go, Paula. You got me this break, and I want you with me if my profile rises higher."
Paula hugged her friend, then replied, "Before I thank you, there is one thing we need to be clear on."
"There is no IF, you are coming here because the big chief sees great potential in your work and he wants you to get as much publicity as soon as you can. That way we can strike while the iron is hot and we'll all get the benefits from your successes. Well, I don't know about you, but I am ready for an early night as we have the early flight."
Anne wiped some loose hair from her face and replied, "I agree, I'm beat and the early night may ease my mind for the flight in the morning. See you at breakfast then, Paula!"
"Good night and sleep tight, Anne, we have a call for 07:00 for breakfast!"
The night was calm, and the gentle breezes wafted the thin curtains at Anne's windows. In her dreams, she imagined the lodge as she last knew it, covered in a coat of ivy and with the lake lapping the shores nearby with the birds diving for fishes. In her dream, Anne could see a smaller lodge getting built close to the lake with a small jetty long enough for two rowing boats. The thought woke her, as she sat on her bed thinking she realized that she hadn't been back for so long the whole area could look nothing like she imagined. The idea of losing her dream vacation made Anne cry as she leaned back on the coverlet and fell asleep again.
The alarm went off, and Anne rose wearily, the concept of not seeing what she had imagined was there drained some of the life from Anne.
She got dressed and washed, then went to breakfast as she entered the lounge, Paula said, "You look as if you had a rough night, Anne."
Anne wiped her hand across the strands of hair that had fallen over her face, and then commented; "You have no idea, Paula. It isn't only the thought of flying that worries me; it's that strange phone call we received."
" Don't worry, Anne, I'm sure there is a simple reason for the call, probably just a crossed line. The only thing you need to worry about is how you're going to spend all the money you'll get from the new area of sales we're opening up with this contract today."
"I've no worries about that; I need to take some time off, so I'll spend a few weeks up at the lodge, it's a long time since I was last there. My life in the city is excellent, but I feel I'm missing out on something important in my life."
Paula giggled, then commented, "I know what you miss."
Anne smiled and replied, "Well, miss contented, what am I missing?"
"Anne, you write romance, but you haven't had a relationship for several years; that's what you're missing - companionship."
"I can't deny that I've been so busy that other than you and our business contacts, I have little time for a relationship in my life. I think this could be why I feel I am losing touch with my readers; I can't put myself in a romantic mood these days."
"I can't vouch for your readers, but I can say if you weren't popular this meeting would not be taking place; this publisher has one of the largest audiences on the West coast."
"Lately, I've been feeling drained, for no other reason I need this break as I am afraid I may have a breakdown if I don't take a time-out, Paula."
""When we get back, the first thing I'll do is book your vacation in, all you need to think of now is this meeting, not that you have a thing to worry about; the deal is as good as signed if you got invited over. If you learn to relax, you'll see how good you are, and that people who have been telling you that for years are right."
"You are correct, I need to learn to relax and enjoy life as I did before my popularity overcame me, and the desire to please everyone became my desire."
"Anne, I can't recall who said it, but it's true. If you try to please everyone, you will end up pleasing nobody. The worst thing you can do is to try to write a book that aims to please everybody; people read your work because they like what you are writing, not because you aim to please them."
"Paula, I think that is why I feel so out of touch with my inner self; I've lost the peace I used to be able to find in the search for glory, as you know, my aim was never glory."
The friends sat down to a light breakfast of coffee and toast, enough to take the bite of hunger off, but not enough to take their appetite away; in a few hours, they'd be on the coast with the likelihood of a fish luncheon on the menu.
"Which seat do you want, Anne?"
"I realize it's going to sound crazy, but I'd like the window seat if that is all right with you, Paula. I think it's time I took my bull by the horns and tried to conquer this phobia of flying, especially if we're going to be going to more conferences."
"If you could beat the phobia of flying it would make things a lot easier for both of us; no matter what happens and how you feel, I'm here for you."
"I'm more grateful for your friendship than I can ever say, Paula, without your help I'd still be sitting at home wondering if my work has any value."
"The first idea you need to get to grips with Anne is your work does have value, if it didn't it would make my job a lot harder; for that I thank you. I have got offered many books, some were moderately good and others not much more than ramblings without a direction, but your stories got my attention from the opening pages. If anything keeps your readers coming back, apart from the gritty realism, it's that you get to the end we expect, but not in the way we expected; to do that and keep us on edge is the sign of a wicked mind, and your fans love you for it."
"I can't help myself, Paula, the story writes through me, and it has its route; all I do is put it down on paper for other people to enjoy; you know once I get into a story the story takes me over."
"I know, I can tell when you get into a story, your mind blocks everything else out that includes eating and drinking. I quickly learned that if you didn't answer my call by the third call, there is no point in waiting for you to call back, I had to wait for you to surface. Can you tell me something?"
"I will if I can."
"I've been your agent for as long as we can recall, but I realize before we came to this decision you had been writing for years; I wondered if you got offered stories you felt you could not write?"
"There have been a few, the most notable was during my time as a ghostwriter when a possible client asked me to write a story about a romance between a young lady and a gentleman who met in Chelsea."
"What was wrong with the idea?"
"Nothing was wrong with the concept; it was that the limits to the story were so exacting they restricted my thinking process and other than that, I have never been to Chelsea. As you know, I usually write about imaginary cities I create."
"Is that case the only one?"
"No, another possible client wanted me to write a romance featuring the lifestyle of the rich, that is something I could not fathom."
"Yes, I know you well, your success is because you write about what the majority of people can relate to, not the lifestyle of the rich. To quote Ann Oliver; "I am more like Len Deighton writing Harry Palmer than Ian Fleming writing James Bond."
"As you're using my quotes, what is the one I use about Jane Austen?"
"You mean, you write in the style of Mickey Spillane rather than Jane Austen; not that you have anything but admiration for Ms. Austen because you don't like to pad your stories. If anything is in your story, it is there to move the plot, not pad the word count."
"Correct, and usually I have no problem with plot lines, but recently I feel I am starting to struggle."
"I'm sure you can get over the problem, Anne, in the time I've known you I found there is little that can hold you down if you get involved in your story; sometimes I need to remind you that you do need to eat and drink I recall."
Anne smiled and passed the comment, "I do get too involved at times, I have to admit, it's that when I hit the zone, it can be hard to slow done. One of my flaws is that I can get too into my stories at times and I end up living the lives of my characters."
"That isn't a flaw; it is one of your strengths, and it's what keeps the readers coming back for your books. I think you have a fan near you."
"What do you mean?"
"I've been watching the man in the seat on the far side, and he keeps looking our way as if he thinks he knows who you are, but is worried about looking a fool by saying something out of line."
Anne turned her head slightly to glance at the man, then she said, "I agree, he does look on edge, and when I glanced his way he turned away; life is strange yet funny, I know it's only a short-hop flight, but my nerves have hit in, and I need to go to the toilet."
Paula watched as Anne got up to see how the man would react, she smiled as he waited a few moments then got up too.
Anne did her business and left the toilet, as she walked up the passageway, the man got up the courage to speak to her; he enquired, "I apologize for my rudeness, but aren't you Lana Pawcel?"
Anne blushed slightly then commented with a giggle, "Guilty as charged your honor. I am not ashamed of the writing I did under a pen name; it's just that I thought nobody would read the stories."
The man enquired, "Did you plan on doing any more stories with Alex, or extending your story Ghosts don't dance?"
Anne gulped and replied, "You must be a devotee of mine if you've got those as very few copies got sold. To answer your question, for a while I did think of doing another story with Alex in Sexual Explosions, I think a more arousing story would suit the set up this time, and in the last few weeks, I've been asked several times if I thought about extending Ghosts don't dance. For now, I have several ideas in mind for stories, but I'll be taking a respite when I get back from this appointment as I feel I'm getting a little rusty in my writing, and I need to clear my mind."
"Among my friends, one of the main discussions is will Lana Return?"
Anne smiled and commented, "I think she may well return as she appears to have built a fan base. I never thought she was that popular as there were so few sales compared to my other books; it isn't as if I am ashamed of her style, at the time I was trying to break into publishing and tried several concepts to get some sales."
"I can assure you there is a small but loyal set of fans who await Lana Pawcels' return from the depths of oblivion, Miss Oliver. Again, I apologize for the interruption, and I wish you more success on your return from your vacation."
Anne smiled and replied, "Thank you, I do need this rest."
The man left Anne and returned to his seat, a few seconds later, Paula turned in her seat, and as she saw the man return to his position, she asked: "Who is that man?"
Anne winked at Paula, then answered the question, "A fan of Lana Pawcel."
Paula took a moment to think then replied, "Who is Lana Pawcel, and how do you know her, Anne?"
"Lana was a pen name I used in the early days before we met, Paula, I wrote a couple of erotica short stories when I was trying to break into the publishing world."
Paula smiled, then she laughed and said: "Well, bless my soul, Ms. Oliver, all this time and you'd been holding out on me. What did he wish to know?"
"He asked if she was returning after her two earlier stories."
"And your answer is?"
"I may resurrect her one day, for now, all I want is to get this appointment over and go on my well-earned vacation. While I am there, it'll give me time to consider a few options."