I gathered my notebook, pen, and a tablet and started the trek across the bullpen of the bustling media office. Everyone wanted the scoop on the best entertainment stories that had erupted over the weekend. Furiously typing fingers clattered on keyboards, papers rustled, and journalists chattered loudly into their phones as they interrogated their sources. The smell of coffee and fresh pastries intertwined, creating a comforting, familiar smell that had become part of my Monday morning routine.
I moved with purpose, keeping my chin up and my notebook and tablet clutched to my chest. I was a petite person and went easily ignored or unnoticed in a sea of tall, beautiful people. I had to elbow my way past a trio of sports guys gathered around the water cooler, who didn’t stop talking even as I apologized for stepping on one of their massive feet. I continued on my journey, my destination the large corner office where the boss reigned. The Monday morning chaos made it hard to make a straight line to his office. Not to mention, my desk was about as far from the office as possible.
“Good morning, Merida.”
I smiled and waved at the young woman who wrote about the latest fashion trends. Other journalists were already hard at work, their faces illuminated by the soft glow of computer screens as they furiously typed away, racing against time to meet their deadlines. It was always like a horserace to see who could get the hottest stories posted online first. The first one out of the gate would have their article referred to, tagged, and retweeted over and over and over. Every set of eyes that read the article was money in the bank. If the headline was juicy enough, the reader would subscribe to the publication. That meant more money.
“Excuse me.” I gently touched another journalist’s shoulder as I passed.
“Hey, Merida,” he said. “Have a good weekend?”
“Not too bad.” I continued on my way.
Phones rang incessantly, their shrill tones cutting through the din. Reporters answered with a sense of practiced urgency, their voices modulating as they spoke to sources, chased leads, and confirmed facts. If I was being honest, I was a little jealous of their exciting jobs. My job wasn’t nearly as thrilling. I was a fluff writer, hence my desk way out of the bullpen. I was an outsider.
I knew they didn’t respect me. They were nice but they didn’t see me as one of their counterparts. I was essentially one of the high school kids we invited to work in the office every summer. I was a small step above the intern fetching coffee for the real reporters.
I made my way to the CEO’s office, knocked, and cracked it open a couple of inches.
The CEO, Herman Moore, sat behind his desk. He didn’t look up from his computer screen, which cast a glaring reflection on his glasses, but he gestured for me to come in. Dalton Weir sat on the other side of the desk with one ankle propped up on his knee and his notepad in his lap. He looked the part as star of the company, which he was. He got to write the hard-hitting stories and his pieces brought in more clicks than all other reporters combined. If I could pick whose career I wanted to emulate most, it would be his. I just wanted one piece of the pie. One shred of the glory. I had the talent.
I just needed the opportunity.
“I’ll let you get to it.” Dalton got to his feet. He flashed me a smile and winked. “Good luck.”
“Thanks.” I stepped out of his way to let him pass and took the seat he’d vacated. I drummed my fingers on my tablet in my lap, waiting for my boss’s attention. His fingers flew across his keyboard.
Finally, he glanced up at me, and the corners of his eyes crinkled with a smile. “Morning, Merida. Want a coffee?” He nodded to the far side of his office where a new espresso machine gleamed. “I can make you a latte. Dalton is better than me, but hey, I can give it a try.”
“I’m not here for coffee, Dad.”
“Oh?” He cocked his head and pushed back from his computer. Finally, I had his attention. “What’s up?”
Dad to me, Herman Moore to the world. I was one of two children. Technically, I was the only human child. The newspaper, Full Disclosure, was my sibling. A sibling I was very jealous of. It was pretty embarrassing to compete against a newspaper. Even more embarrassing? The paper took priority most of the time.
Here goes nothing.
I balanced my notebook and tablet on my lap. “I have a pitch.”
“What is it?” He looked back at his screen, peering at it over the frames of his glasses.
I fidgeted with my notebook spine. If anyone thought I got the job because of nepotism, they would be mistaken. My father didn’t believe in me. He gave me the job out of duty, but that didn’t mean he thought I could actually be a journalist. Not a serious one anyway. He always gave me the proverbial pat on the head before sending me back to get out of his hair. Prime example, as soon as the word “pitch” left my lips, he’d gone back to his computer and subconsciously decided this would be a waste of his time. It stung more than I wanted to admit.
“I want to do an in-depth opinion piece about Jensen Loxley.”
“No,” he said again. “We’re not publishing anything with his name on it. I don’t want anything to do with that man.”
“It would be an opinion piece,” I pushed.
“Jensen Loxley is making waves with this new AI he’s developing,” I continued. I was desperate to do the story. “Writing a piece about him will bring his work front and center. Right now, only the people in his social circle, the other wealthy elites, are paying any attention to what he’s doing. I want to get the word out about what he’s doing with AI. Everyone should know, not just a select few who go to the right clubs and rub elbows with the movers and shakers in this world.”
He shook his head. “We’re not going to give him any more press. He appeals to a certain group and it’s not our readers. Stick with what you know.”
“I know a lot,” I said quietly.
“You’re doing a great job writing the advice column,” he said. “Aren’t you working on some fall decorating articles? That’s what our readers want from you. Pumpkins, twinkling lights, DIY’s. Right? That’s the term? DIY?”
“My readership is nonexistent,” I argued. “No one is reading that drivel. I want to write something people will read and learn something new. Something people will care about.”
Something I care about.
“Didn’t you tell me about some new candle or something?” he said. “That’s new.”
It was difficult to be dismissed as irrelevant in general, but to have it done by your own father really hurt. “I’m ready for more,” I said quietly. “I’m ready to write a real story beyond the best seasonal home décor or the new candle scents. I want to write something juicy. I’m bored. Really bored.”
“You have to pay your dues,” he said.
“And I will, but I can’t do that if I don’t write,” I insisted. “Why don’t I write the piece and you can decide if it’s worth publishing?”
“You’d be better served writing what you’ve been assigned.” He said it like he was my boss and not my father. The conversation was over as far as he was concerned. Once again, I’d been shot down. I was forever doomed to write fluffy garbage.
“Fine,” I said and got to my feet.
His focus remained on his computer screen, my dismissal issued. I left his office with slumped shoulders. Dalton sat at his desk, which had the prime position outside my father’s office. It was a hierarchy. Those with desks closest to the boss’s office were more valuable. They were like royalty.
The further away from the main office you got, the lower in class and value the reporters got. My desk was the furthest you could get, which was a clear statement about my value to the publication.
Dalton looked at me with his warm brown eyes filled with sympathy. I knew he meant well, but I was sick of the sympathetic looks. I was sick of people patting me on the head and promising it would get better.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“As expected,” I muttered.
He offered a small smile. “It’s going to happen for you. You’re going to find that one story that you can sink your teeth into. It’s going to blow his socks off.”
“Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem interested enough to even look at what I might write,” I said, sighing. “He never wanted me to have this job.”
“That’s not true,” Dalton said.
“It is. He gave me the job because it was either I work for him or I go back to working at the coffee shop, and my shiny journalism degree would have sat on the shelf for the next five years. I was a pity hire.”
As I walked back to my desk, I couldn’t shake the feeling of inferiority. It hung over me like a cloak draped over my shoulders, making me want to crawl into a hole and hide. The newsroom buzzed with activity, but I felt like a spectator watching from the sidelines.
I couldn’t help but compare myself to the other reporters who were churning out stories at breakneck speed. They had the fire in their bellies, the passion that made them chase after the truth. I was just going through the motions, waiting for a decent story to ignite my spark.
As I sat down at my desk, I saw the blinking cursor on the screen but couldn’t bring myself to type anything. I didn’t want to write about “Happy Fall Y’all” signs or the many shades of fucking orange.
I wanted to write something that mattered, something that would make a difference. But how could I do that when I didn’t even believe in myself? Dalton was right. I needed to find that one story that would blow everyone’s socks off, but where was it?
I thought the story of the billionaire tech guy threatening to help robots run the world was a worthy story. It certainly got my attention. I wanted to dig into it at least. If my father didn’t want me to write about Jensen Loxley, maybe I could find something else about AI that was relevant to today’s news. Then, I could sprinkle in some Jensen content. Loxley was a hot topic right now. Just mentioning his name would bring in clicks.
I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. The chatter around the office and the phones ringing or vibrating across desks became too distracting. I exited off the document I’d been working on for the story about the tech billionaire. I needed a paycheck and that was not the story that was going to get me paid.
I sighed and read the first few lines of the article I was writing about trending home fragrances for fall.
“Joy,” I murmured. “Pumpkin. Cinnamon. More pumpkin.”
Jealousy clawed at me as I eavesdropped on a couple of the women who covered entertainment news. Apparently some A-list celebrities were caught cheating on their spouses. They were so excited to write their content. I wanted to be thrilled to write something. I thought I loved writing and journalism in general, but lately, I’d been rethinking everything. I was twenty-nine. It wasn’t too late to switch professions.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. The only thing I wanted was writing. But if no one read what I wrote, what was the point?
A paycheck. That was the point. Instead of being pissed and jealous of my coworkers, I grabbed my earbuds from the drawer and put them in. I put on my motivational music playlist and got busy writing about pumpkin spice and everything nice.