“Hannah! Move your ass we’re going to be late!” I called down the hallway, then turned back to the bathroom mirror.
My heart pounded in my chest as I leaned in close to my reflection, trying to keep my hand steady as I swept light brown eyeshadow over one closed lid.
Perfect. Everything has to be perfect today. I started on the other lid.
“Holly, have you seen my black leather jacket?” came a jarring voice directly behind my ear. Startled, the makeup brush jolted upwards, painting a swatch of eyeshadow over my brow and up to my forehead.
“Dammit, Hannah,” I said with a sigh, reaching for a tissue. “Your leather jacket is in the front closet. Where I hung it last night after you threw it on the ground.”
My hands shook as I wiped off the errant makeup.
“Thanks, sis. You’re a dream,” Hannah said, coming up next to me and giving me a swift kiss on the cheek. I rolled my eyes and picked the makeup brush off the counter.
For a moment, I looked back at my own reflection, and its mirror image standing beside me. Hannah’s waist-length blonde hair was the same honey-gold shade of my own. She had the same blue-green eyes, the same slender physique.
We were carbon copies of one another, down to the identical spray of freckles across our noses, though Hannah’s were harder to spot under her deep brown tan. She’d recently returned from a semester studying abroad in Australia and, in addition to the tan, now sported a steel bar through the upper cartilage of her left ear.
Hannah’s numerous piercings, as well as the red-and-gold tattoo of a phoenix that spread across her shoulder blades, were the only way that people could really tell us apart.
My twin’s reflection in the mirror met my own. Hannah’s eyes traveled down my outfit, her brow raised in disapproval.
“You cannot wear that,” she said.
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” I cried in dismay. I looked down at my watch. We needed to be out the door in seven minutes if I was going to drop my sister off at her audition.
“You look like you’re going to an interview at a Catholic school, not one of the top advertising firms in Chicago.” Hannah said, her pink-stained lips pulled sideways into a smirk.
“It’s not…that bad,” I said, but my heart plummeted as I looked down at the brown tweed skirt and the loose jacket I was wearing over a collared white shirt.
Okay so it was a little conservative, but I needed to be taken seriously today. I needed to look like someone who was ready to be a junior copywriter at Fleischmann and Carter.
Hannah laughed. I took in her outfit, torn mesh leggings over a neon yellow skirt and a black t-shirt with a rainbow zebra on the front. Her eyes were rimmed with thick black eyeliner, and several hoops dangled from each of her ears.
“So you think I should dress like you, Ms. David Bowie?” I said.
Hannah was already crossing to her bedroom, so I was spared her sarcastic mumblings. I used the brief moment of peace to finish adding the final touches to my makeup.
I met my eyes in the mirror. You can do this, Holly.
You’ve already been there for four months. You’ve earned this.
I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself.
I’d spent the summer after graduating from the University of Illinois doing an unpaid internship at Fleischmann and Carter. For four months—sometimes for more than twelve hours a day—I’d run in heels through the corridors, fetching coffee, organizing files, and generally being the office gopher along with nine other recent college grads.
Now that the summer was over, the board of directors was prepared to offer full-time positions to only two of us. And I was determined that one of them would be me.
Hannah came stomping back into the bedroom, holding a creamy blush-rose dress over one arm and a black Neiman Marcus blazer in the other.
“Put these on,” she said, thrusting the clothes into my arms and crossing her own impatiently.
“Where did you even get these?” I said, taking a look at the designer labels on the clothes. “Dad said no more credit cards after that debacle in Sydney.”
“Yes—well—I bought these before that,” Hannah said, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
Hannah had what our father wearily referred to as “champagne taste on a beer budget”.
Thankfully, she also had excellent taste in fashion, and I yanked off my jacket and skirt right there in the bathroom and pulled the dress over my head.
The slippery satin hugged my curves like a second skin. It had a deep, cowled neckline that hinted at cleavage without actually revealing any. I tugged on the blazer and fastened the middle button, noticing as I did how well it fit.
It helped to have a roommate with my exact dimensions.
Hannah ran off to locate her leather jacket, and I took one last appraising glance in the mirror. She was right, this dress looked classy and sophisticated. Like a woman ready to take on the world, not a nervous twenty-one year old woman with all her hopes on the line.
I fought the urge to fidget with my hair, which was smoothed back into a glossy high ponytail.
Okay Holly. Now or never.
“Are you sure it’s okay if you skip class today?” I said to Hannah as I turned down headed east towards Lake Michigan. The September sun felt more like mid-July; the city was practically baking with heat even early in the morning.
“I told you, I already cleared it with my professors. I only have two classes on Friday anyway. Stop worrying,” Hannah said, her nose buried in her phone.
“Someone has to worry about your future, it’s not like you’re going to,” I replied, prickling with irritation. The only reason my sister had two classes on Friday was because she had dropped all of the others when they threatened to interfere with her “auditions”
“I’m singing at Lymelyght!” she cried, finally looking up from her phone. “It’s one of the hottest nightclubs in the city and they want me to audition! Don’t tell me I’m not thinking about my future.”
I bit my tongue and said nothing. I was in no mood to provoke Hurricane Hannah this morning. “If it’s a nightclub, why is the audition so early in the morning?” I asked instead, searching for neutral ground.
“Because I’m auditioning for the opening act, at seven o’clock at night. I’m not important enough to get to sleep in,” she said dryly, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
I smiled at the familiar gesture. I fidgeted the same way when I was nervous, it was one of the reasons I’d pulled my hair back into a ponytail for my interview.
Benedict Carter couldn’t stand useless fidgeting–he’d told me once when I’d delivered his mail.
I turned off LaSalle and headed north. The streets were so jam-packed with other cars, bicycles, and hapless tourists that my Jeep Wrangler could only move forward a few inches at a time.
I checked my watch again. 9:15. I still had forty-five minutes until my interview.
“Are you okay to get back on the train?” I asked Hannah. “I probably won’t be back at the apartment until later tonight.” Normally we used the complex network of trains and buses to get downtown, but today I had made an exception, fearful of any public transit delay outside of my control.
“Yes, Mom,” Hannah replied, once again focused on her phone.
I pulled up in front of Lymelyght, fighting the urge not to roll my eyes at the deliberate misspelling.
“Text me the second it’s over. Break a leg, Banana,” I said, using my childhood nickname for her.
“You too, Jolly. Knock ’em dead,” Hannah said, leaning over the center console to give me a fierce hug.
A truck honked its horn loudly behind us. “Gotta go, sis!” she said, giving me one more hard squeeze before swinging open the door of the Jeep.
Words of caution rose to my lips, but I bit them back. Hannah wouldn’t appreciate my mother-henning. She never had.
I watched her walk towards the darkened nightclub, tall and confident in knee-high combat boots. She looked utterly fearless, which of course she was.
I was the twin with the pile of anxiety.
I met my own gaze in the rearview mirror.
I can’t worry about Hannah now. I’ve got my own date with destiny.
Two of my fellow interns were already waiting outside the boardroom of Fleischmann and Carter when I arrived. James had his dark brown hands clasped fervently together as if in prayer. Vivian eyed me with cool disdain, already mentally dismissing me as a rival.
I fought the urge to chew on my bottom lip and took a seat in one of the plush leather chairs next to James. “Who’s in there now?” I asked quietly.
“Tommy,” he grunted, not looking up.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Tommy Hawthorne was a lazy little bastard who thought his Daddy’s name could get him whatever he wanted in life. He’d spent the summer lounging in the break room, cracking jokes while the rest of us worked our asses off. If there was any justice in the world, he’d be in for an unpleasant surprise when he faced the board.
I leaned back in the comfortable leather chair and closed my eyes, mentally checking off the four people I would need to impress today.
David Fleischmann was the only remaining member of the original advertising team that had opened back in the 1960′s. Now nearing eighty-five, he was still as sharp-eyed and razor-tongued as ever. I’d managed to earn praise from him only once during my short time with the firm—for a piece of copywriting that had been chosen by one of their top clients—and desperately hoped he’d remember me.
Janet Choo would be tough, but she probably knew me best. The head marketing director, she had a no-nonsense personality and I knew she loathed privileged little toads like Tommy Hawthorne. I had worked directly under her for months, and I knew she saw how hard I worked by the way she didn’t dog my heels the way she did some of the other interns.
Evelyn Fleischmann, David’s daughter and sole heir, didn’t scare me too much. She had little interest in the day-to-day running of the business, preferring to spend her father’s millions jet-setting around the globe. When I’d learned she would be among the interviewers, I was secretly surprised she deigned to notice us lowly interns at all, let alone that she would care which of us was chosen to work there permanently.
It was more likely that she was in town because she had her eyes on Benedict Carter, the fourth member of the board and the one I was most worried about impressing. Mostly because every time I was in the same room as him, I had a strange tendency to drop whatever I was holding at the time.
The first time I met him was my second day at Fleischmann and Carter. I’d been shown a bulky metal pushcart bursting over with undelivered mail and told to discreetly place it in the inboxes of the various cubicles and executive offices. The cart had a broken caster, and kept veering to the left no matter how hard I tried to correct it. I bumped my way down the carpeted hall, too new and frightened to make eye contact with anyone.
When I got to the frosted glass door marked “Carter”, I paused nervously. My hair was in a long braid over my shoulder, and I found myself nervously fidgeting with the blonde tail of it, running the smooth strands between my fingers again and again as I tried to summon the courage to enter the Vice-President’s office.
I stayed there so long my eyes must have taken on a glazed, unfocused look when the door opened outward, banging into the corner of my pushcart. A scowling head popped over the door, glaring in my direction.
“Do you mind?” a cool voice asked. It belonged to the most gorgeous face I’d ever laid eyes on.
Benedict Carter had thick, wavy brown hair and a chiseled square jaw covered by a day-old’s growth of beard. His nose was straight and fine, framed by hazel eyes flecked with green. Right now, they were narrowed at me in annoyance.
“I seem to be trapped in my office,” he said with a raised brow. His voice contained a hint of a laugh.
My cheeks flamed scarlet. I tried to move the pushcart but the broken caster caught on the edge of a rug and wouldn’t budge. “I—sorry sir, I—”
With one powerful motion he slammed the door open, sending the pushcart flying backwards. I gaped at him, taking in the tailored charcoal suit that didn’t quite hide his powerful muscles.
Mr. Carter looked at me, his eyes trailing over my nondescript black pants and blue blouse.
I was mortified. “Sorry, sir. I was just about to—” I stammered, still nervously running my fingers through the loose end of my braid.
“Stop fidgeting,” he snapped. I froze, my hands falling from my hair. The vice-president of Fleischmann and Carter had the power to fire me at whim. My career in advertising could be over the moment it began if he decided I wasn’t worth keeping around.
Terrified, I flicked my eyes up to meet his. His face softened as he took in my rigid posture, my inflamed cheeks. He leaned forward, bending his tall form to whisper in my ear. “It betrays you, Never let them see your fear.”
Mr. Carter had straightened and walked off without another word. That was my only day delivering mail before I was assigned to Janet Choo’s copywriting team, and I barely saw him in the following weeks. When I did, he didn’t acknowledge me or show any sign that he recognized me at all. Not that I blamed him. I was just another grunt, entirely beneath his notice.
But that didn’t stop my eyes from drinking him in every time I saw him in the halls. Over the months I learned that he favored dark gray suits and had a tie in every color of the rainbow, though he seemed to favor red.
I also heard some scandalizing rumors about him from some of the other interns.
Apparently our vice-president was a total playboy, only interested in chasing the next piece of tail across Chicago. And once he’d claimed his prize, he was off in search of different prey.
Not that I cared. I only needed to get through this one interview without getting tripped up and tongue-tied every time I looked at his hazel-green eyes and full mouth.
Without imagining that mouth kissing the skin of my neck, his large hands trailing down my arms to caress my breasts before traveling south to my—
“Miss Mason? Are we disturbing your beauty sleep?”
My eyes snapped open. I’d been resting my hand against the back of the chair for so long it probably did look as though I’d fallen asleep.
Benedict Carter was standing in the doorway of the boardroom, looking down at me with a half-amused, half-annoyed expression on his face.
My jaw dropped open, and I shut it with an audible click. “No, not at all—I was just preparing—”
He knew my name.
My heart kicked up twelve notches in one second, leaving me slightly dizzy.
“I’m sure you were,” Mr. Carter said, one side of his mouth pulling upward into a smirk. “And while I’d hate to deprive you of your rest, it’s time for your interview.”
Blood rushed to my face. I glanced at James, whose jaw was clenched tightly. Then to Vivian, who looked like she wanted to dig my eyes out of my skull.
“They—they were waiting here first,” I stammered, desperately hoping for twenty minutes with which to compose my thoughts.
He quirked a dark brow. “I won’t ask again, Miss Mason,” he said, then turned and went back inside the boardroom.
I bolted out of my seat, cast a guilty—yet somewhat triumphant—look at James and Vivian, and followed Benedict Carter into the interview.
Fifteen minutes later, I exited the boardroom from the back door, casting a silent thank-you to the heavens that I was spared facing my fellow interns as tears welled in my eyes.
I brushed them away with one hand, straightening my shoulders as I made my way down the main hallway of Fleischmann and Carter towards the bathroom.
Never let them see your fear.
I held it together until I had locked the stall door behind me.
Only then did I allow the tears to fall.
The interview had been a disaster. I’d been flustered from the start, unable to organize my thoughts into a coherent thought pattern. When David Fleischmann asked me about where I saw myself in five years, I’d blinked dumbly at him before mumbling something about “higher positions” and blushing furiously.
Hannah never blushed. From our earliest years she was the twin who could lie with a straight face, who could put on that smooth stage mask and hide her true feelings from the world.
Right now, I hated her for it. Wished that my every emotion wasn’t broadcast across my forehead like a Las Vegas billboard.
Benedict Carter had asked only one question during the interview. It was in between Janet Choo’s praising of my dedicated work–for which I definitely owed her a box of her favorite macarons—and Evelyn Fleischmann’s off-hand compliment about my dress—for which I definitely owed my twin a box of her favorite truffled chocolates.
Mr. Carter had leaned forward from his place on the other side of the wide conference table. There was a predatory gleam in his eye. “Miss—Mason,” he’d said, pausing to look at my resume as if he needed help remembering my last name, “Most of the products you’ve worked on during your time here focus on products that cater towards women ages nineteen to twenty-five, correct?”
“Yes, I particularly enjoyed working with Ms. Choo on the Perkins soap campaign–” I stopped when he held up a hand.
“I see that. My question is in regards to your–adaptability. How would you change your marketing strategy to cater to say–men ages thirty to forty-five?”
My mind went completely, utterly blank. All I could think about was that he was about that age, maybe around thirty-five or so. My restless hands traveled towards my neck, but I clasped them firmly in my lap.
No fidgeting. It betrays you.
“I—I would try to—” I stammered uselessly. “I guess I would try to give them whatever they desired.”
The moment the words left my mouth I felt my cheeks grow hot. I hadn’t mentioned SEO, hadn’t given my rehearsed blurb about not being daunted by new challenges..
And Benedict Carter’s gaze was still piercing into me. I felt his eyes on the neckline of my dress and thanked Hannah that she had chosen something relatively modest.
I opened my mouth to continue, but a harsh cough from Evelyn Fleischmann cut me off. I couldn’t make out her exact expression through the Botox in her face, but her eyes were flinty. “Thank you, Miss Mason. We will make our decision by the end of next week and let you know.”
I saw the accusation in her eyes. I’d stared too long at the vice-president, when she’d already marked him for herself. Even though she had to be at least fifteen years older than him.
But there was nothing I could do except shake hands with the board and exit through the back door. Now I sat on the cool porcelain lid of the toilet, trying to rein in my tears.
My phone buzzed in my purse, and I fished it out.
HANNAH: How’d it go?
HANNAH: Are you a big time exec yet?
I chucked the phone back into my bag, resisting the urge to fling it across the bathroom floor. How could I face my sister after ruining my first real chance at getting my dream job?
My phone buzzed again but I ignored it, too deep in my misery to want to see Hannah’s encouraging texts. But when it buzzed again a split second later, I couldn’t resist digging my phone back out. Then I gawped, open-mouthed, at the screen.
I had two new texts, but they weren’t from Hannah.
They were from Janet Choo.
My fingers trembled as I unlocked the screen.
JANET: Unconfirmed, so don’t shout about it online just yet…but you’re in.
JANET: The board was very impressed by your work.
My heart stopped. I couldn’t breathe as I typed back a reply.
HOLLY: ARE YOU SERIOUS??
HOLLY: Janet, I can’t even begin to thank you.
HOLLY: You stuck up for me in there.
JANET: Perhaps too much, it seems.
HOLLY: What do you mean?
JANET: Carter is pulling you off my projects.
HOLLY: He wants you on his personal team.