Fragile but practical Shelby Stewart and ambitious, confident Astrid Ericcson just want to start their PR careers in 1980s Boston and maybe find a nice guy to hang out with. But long-buried memories of incest at the hands of her local hero stepfather keep interrupting Shelby’s plans, affecting her health one way after another. And when will she actually date someone her friends think is good enough for her?
Astrid thinks she wrote the book on How to Get Ahead by Flirting but is forced to re-visit her career advancement strategy when her boss Brad takes the innuendoes to a whole new, scary level, threatening her job and her safety.
Suddenly, instead of taking charge of their lives, both women find themselves spinning out of control.
In this fast-paced story for the #MeToo generation, the women reach new highs and lows in life, work and romance, while struggling to make sense of the abusive relationships that haunt them.
The novel’s two heroines meet for the first time in this scene, which is set in 1980s Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Astrid’s moving out day couldn’t come fast enough. We’d met yesterday.
Anne, the office manager at public relations firm Campbell Lewis, had shown me to a tiny cubicle located right next to the kitchen. Believe it or not, the small kitchen was slightly bigger than my cubicle. Two desks were crammed into the cube, the far one occupied.
“This is your desk,” Anne said, a little too proudly for the sub-par accommodations. “Astrid, I’d like to introduce our new intern and your new cube-mate. This is Shelby Stewart. She’ll be working on Maggie’s team.” Anne turned to me. “We’ve been using one of the AE—I mean account executive—offices for storage, but we’re turning it back into an office for Astrid, and then this will be your cube.”
Astrid reached down to tug at her navy blue sling-back, exhaled dramatically, scooched her chair back until it hit the other chair—my chair—and unfolded her legs from underneath the desk, bumping them against the underside of the desk in the process.
She rose from her chair, turned around and stretched up to her full height, which was somewhere around model-tall in heels but probably more like a perfect five foot seven inches in reality. I vowed then and there to swap out my flat pumps for heels tomorrow. I didn’t even like flat pumps.
Astrid’s hair was straight and creamy blonde, streaked with honey and amber. It fell about six inches below her shoulders—just short of unprofessional.
Her light blue suit was ridiculously cute even though I wouldn’t be caught dead in it. It tapered from substantial shoulder pads to a thin navy belt accentuating her tiny waist. Navy blue trim outlined the cuffs and pockets, and a power bow at the neck topped it off.
“Hi,” she said, analyzing me with unimpressed crystal-blue eyes. She seemed ready to bolt past me, but either the lack of running room or a quick glance at Anne changed her mind. “Nice to meet you,” she said, offering a slender, pearly-tipped hand.
“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Anne said with a smile and what may have been a sympathetic look in my direction before turning and leaving me alone with this woman I immediately loathed and wanted to be at the same time.
Astrid sat back down at her desk and started writing on a pad of paper. The getting-acquainted period apparently over, I settled into the other desk, meaning I hung my coat over the back of the chair and studied the tax form Anne left me to fill out. I read all the fine print, probably making me the first person in the history of modern civilization to do that.
Ten excruciating minutes later, the phone on Astrid’s desk beeped. “Yes, we have to share a phone,” she said in a resigned voice without looking at me. She expertly pressed one of the dozen or so buttons on the phone and announced, “This is Astrid” into the speaker.
“Would you ask Shelby to come into my office? This is Maggie.”
“Of course. Have a lovely day, Maggie. Bye.” She pressed another button on the phone and turned back to her writing.
After lunch, I re-entered cubicle world where Astrid was dumping a half-eaten salad into the trash bin. I struggled for something to say.
“That’s a nice binder,” I offered, eying the brown leather case on her desk. “Did you have it engraved with ‘AE’ for account executive?” I added, proud of myself for using the agency lingo.
She regarded me like a science project. “Yes,” she said finally. “Before that, I had one with ‘AC’ on it for account coordinator, and when I get my next promotion, I’ll get one with ‘SAE’ on it for senior account executive.”
“Hmm,” I said in response, which seemed to piss her off.
“No, of course I didn’t get a portfolio,” she said, emphasizing the correct name of the damn thing, “with my job title initials on it! Here’s my card,” she said, grabbing a business card from the silver holder on her desk and tossing it in my direction. “And it isn’t engraved, it’s embossed. I’m going to a meeting.”
After she huffed out, I picked up the card from the floor. Astrid Ericsson. AE. Oh.
I spent the rest of the day learning how to use an uncooperative computer in the common area and staying out of Astrid’s way.
Thank you, S.M. Stevens
About the author
S.M. Stevens began writing during back-to-back health crises: a shattered pelvis and ovarian cancer. She has self-published Shannon’s Odyssey (Middle Grade) and the Bit Players series (Young Adult). When not writing, she provides marketing and PR to solar energy companies. She lives in New England.