I typed "The End," clicked the save button, and clicked it again just to make sure. I felt huge relief that I'd finished my novel, and on top of that a heady mixture of elation and exhaustion. But there were also terrible nerves, much worse than usual, because typing those words meant the consequences of a secret decision that I'd made months ago would have to be faced now.
Every year I write a new book, and the draft I'd just finished was my fifth novel, a valuable property, hotly anticipated in publishing houses in London, New York, and other cities around the world. "Valuable property" were my literary agent's words, not mine, but he wasn't wrong. Every day as I wrote, I imagined the staccato tapping of feet beneath desks as publishers awaited the book's delivery, and this time I felt extra nervous because I knew I was going to send
them something they weren't expecting.
"Brave," Eliza had said once she'd figured out what I'd done. "I'm sorry," I told her, and I meant it. Her voice had a new and nasty rasp to it, but everything has its price. Under different circumstances, Eliza would be the first to point that out, because my girl is pragmatic.
I knew what I had to do next, but it was scary. I had a routine for summoning courage, because it was always hard to find, frequently lost in the scatter and doubt of writing a novel.
Counting to thirty took longer than it should have because I decelerated—I am a master of avoidance—but when I got to zero, I focused like a sniper taking aim. One tap of the finger and the novel was gone, out there, 330 pages on their way to my agent, via email, and it was too late to change anything now. I waited as long as a minute before refreshing my inbox to see if he had acknowledged receipt. He hadn't. I deleted emails from clothing retailers offering me new seasonal discounts because I thought they were traitorous messages, reminding me of my internet shopping habit at a moment when something more significant was happening, though I did glimpse a jumpsuit that I thought I might revisit later. It was a buttery color, "hot this spring" apparently and "easy to accessorize." Tempting and definitely worth another look, but not now.
I drummed my fingers on my desk. Refreshed again. Nothing. I clicked the back button and checked if they had the jumpsuit in my size. They did. No low-stock warning, either. Nice. I added one to my shopping cart anyway. Just in case. Went back to email. Refreshed again. Still nothing. Checked my spam folder. Nothing there from Max, but good to see that hot women were available for sex in my city tonight. I deleted all spam, re-refreshed my inbox once more.
I picked up the phone and called. He answered immediately.
He has a lovely voice.
"Lucy! Just a second," he said, "I'm on the other line. Let me get rid of somebody," and he put me on hold. He sounded excited and it made me feel a little fluttery. Not because I'm attracted to him, please don't get the wrong idea, but because he's the person I plot and plan my career with, the gatekeeper to my publishers, negotiator-in-chief of book deals, firefighter-in-chief when things go pear-shaped, and recipient of a percentage of my earnings in return.
Max and I need each other; I'm his most successful client by far, so it was no surprise that he'd been trying to contain his impatience as my deadline for submitting the first draft of this book had approached, delivering pep talks and confidence boosts via phone and email. Whenever I met him, I noticed his nails were bitten to the quick.
He came back on the line after just a moment. "I'm all yours."
"You. Bloody. Miracle." I heard his keyboard clatter as he checked his email. "Got it," he said. There was a double-click as he opened the document. I imagined his eyes on the first page. Seconds passed. They felt like millennia.
Was he reading it? Was he gripped by the first few lines of my story, or had he scanned a few pages ahead and already felt the cold wrap of horror, the clutch of disappointment? My nerves were shredded enough that I could catastrophize a three-second pause.
"I'll read it immediately," he said. "Right away. You must put down the phone and go directly to celebrate. Do not pass go. Treat yourself. Have a bath, open a bottle of something delectable, tell that husband of yours to spoil you. I'll call you as soon as I've finished it."