Home > Fair Catch

Fair Catch
Author: Heidi McLaughlin







When I packed up my life in New York and made the cross-country trek to Portland for the job of a lifetime, excitement and anticipation filled me. How different could one big city be from another? But then I arrived, and the gray skies opened, and the rain seemed endless.

“Good morning, Ms. Sloane.” Barrett, the doorman for my building, nods to me while I stand under the awning and wait for a break in the foot traffic before opening my umbrella and stepping out.

Like when I lived in New York, I don’t have a car. Portland’s a city with a massive public transportation system. Why waste money on buying a car, paying for parking, and getting auto insurance? I’d much rather travel to different countries than spend money on something I’d rarely use.

“Morning, Barrett.” I drop the “good” because nothing seems good at the moment. I get that it’s fall, and I’m used to the chill in the air, but I’m also used to warm fall days and cool nights. This crap Portland is dumping on me makes me second-guess living here.

“It’s for your dream job,” I mutter to myself.

“What’s that, Ms. Sloane?”

Shaking my head, I glance at Barrett. “Sorry, I’m trying to psyche myself up for the walk to work.”

“Would you like me to hail you a cab?”

“No. But thank you. I need to get used to the rain.”

Barrett laughs. “After a while, you won’t even notice it.”

Whatever you say.

When I see an opening between the hordes of people walking, I click the button on my umbrella and step out from beneath the awning. I shiver and pull my black trench coat tighter, wishing I could’ve worn my full-length peacoat since it’s lined with wool and has always kept me warm. That coat will always be my favorite ever purchase, but a wet peacoat takes ages to dry.

Today, I’m thankful for the crowds gathered on the street corners. The ones that stand on the curb are brave. They’re willing to get wet for the rest of us. Each time I see a car careening toward the curb for a coveted parking spot, I wait for the driver to hit the puddle, splashing the people waiting to cross. And the lengthy line of obscenities that are sure to come.

By the time I make it into my office, I’m bone cold. In my cubicle, I flip on the space heater I keep under my desk and hang my coat before heading into the breakroom. Thankfully, there’s a pot of coffee brewed and ready for pouring. After I put my lunch in the refrigerator, I pour myself a cup and head back to my desk.

I’m early, in the sense that most of my coworkers roll in before noon. Many of them spend most of their nights staying up all hours reading manuscripts. Not me. I’ve never been much of a night owl, and literally can’t read past nine p.m., which is pretty unreasonable since my job is to read manuscripts and decide if they are worthy of publishing.

I love my job as an acquisitions editor for an up-and-coming publishing house in Portland. Leaving my job in New York to join Willamette Publishing was the best decision for my career. It was their business model (and the fact they had landed the biggest authors on the planet) that had my bags packed before the ink dried on my contract.

The only thing I regret—the rain.

But like Barrett says, I’ll get used to it.

My laptop boots up, and my email automatically opens. Each new message filters in. Twenty-five submissions overnight, and now sent to the printer. My boss complains about the amount of paper I use, but I’d much rather hold the sample in my hand and make notes than read it on my screen. My mentor is to blame. She taught me this way, and it’s how I prefer to work.

The first one on my pile is from an agent I’ve worked with many times. Her clients haven’t disappointed yet with their submissions. Except, this one throws me off kilter a bit. It’s a sports romance, which is always a hot commodity. However, I don’t know jack shit about football.

The submission is good. Great even. It has everything an editor looks for from story flow, pacing, conflict, and flirty banter, which I’m a sucker for. Give me the fun-loving jabs and I’m taking this to my boss. My only hang-up—the sports talk. Granted, I know what a tackle is, but the lingo leaves me wondering if the author is right or just blowing smoke.

This one goes into my “maybe” pile, and I work through the rest, asking for full reads on three of them, passing on a handful, and the rest I email the agent asking for some minor revisions. There were a couple I really enjoyed, but both had something missing. Those will usually come back to my email within days because the author is eager to land the deal.

I email the agent on the football one, explaining I need a couple of days to decide but ask for a full manuscript. I’m curious and the pitch was at the top of my list, but I need to make sure I know what I’m getting into before I take it to the higher-ups.

Back in the breakroom, I head to the refrigerator and grab my yogurt while I wait for the next pot of coffee to brew. Each of us has suggested we get one of those one cup brewers, but again, the cost and waste is a problem. The owner, Jonathan Tally, is very conscious about the amount of waste we create, which I get. He recycles everything, including the coffee grounds.

Basha Norris stands at the counter and drums her finger on the granite countertop. She’s been at WP for a year, and while I mostly take contemporary romance, she’s the historical queen in our small publishing house.

“What do they say about a watched pot?” she asks with a sigh.

“It doesn’t boil,” I reply. “Or brew.”

“I should bring my own machine in. If I leave it at my desk and take my trash with me, Jonathan won’t say anything, right?”

I shrug and lean against the counter with my empty mug in my hand. “He might. We could always ask.”

“You know who’d have a problem with it?”

“Kit,” I say with a sigh. She’s the boss. Everyone loves her except she complains a lot about noise. The open office concept isn’t for everyone, and on this floor, she’s everyone. Someone sent Jonathan an anonymous note asking him to move Kit to an office, so the editors and staff could work in peace without Kit sending a mass email reminding everyone to keep their nails cut short because she hates the clickity clack they make on the keyboard.

“Right. The noise would bother her.”

Finally, there’s enough coffee in the pot for one cup and Basha pours herself one. “Sorry,” she says with an apologetic look.

“I don’t mind. Hey, let me ask you something. I received a pitch today and I like it, but it’s in the sports romance category and I don’t know jack about football. Should I have Jonathan read it?”

“Is it sporty or one of those ‘he’s an athlete, but they never actually detail anything about the sport’ sort of thing? Because those annoy the crap out of me. I read one the other day about cricket and the bloke didn’t play a single game or if he did, it was in the female POV, so she just gushed about his tight ass in his pantaloons.”

“Is that what she called his pants?” I open my yogurt and start eating.

Basha nods and takes a sip of her coffee. She takes it black, no cream or sugar. Nothing fancy. She calls it her high-octane formula. “Yep. I don’t know how many times I had to delete it from her MS only to find out the lead is British. It’s one of those things where the author should mention it before I get click happy.”

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