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“Well, Sophie, you’ve been busy.” My editor placed the typed sheets on her desk and pushed her reading glasses to the top of her head, smiling in a way that suggested she wasn’t simply commenting on my productivity.
Barbara Evans was definitely fiftyish but her exact age remained a secret closely guarded by her mother and the clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles. No gray, no dye. No kidding. Her eye wrinkles were laugh lines; gravity had yet to wage war on the softer parts of her body.
I made a noncommittal noise as I fooled around at the coffee station in her office at The Mag. I swore I kept this job just so I could drink her coffee. An invitation to Barbara’s office for coffee was like receiving royal honors.
“Unfortunately, I felt really inspired this week.” I tasted the coffee, a shallow sip so I didn’t scald my tongue. Carrying the mug over to her desk, I flopped into the big red leather chair across from her.
“I’ll say. These letters make, what. . . ” She shuffled through the perpetual piles on her desk until she found my column’s folder. Barbara was old school, preferring paper to electronic files. “Seven. You made the regular issue as well as the summer bonus. I’m impressed.”
Nodding, I reached for my cup. The summer bonus was a pain, if anyone asked me. However, I got paid to do it and money was a nice thing. I kept my opinion to myself.
Unfortunately, I had yet to master a passable poker face and Barbara was a champion interpreter.
“But you don’t look like someone who’s free and clear until next issue,” she said. “You look more like you expect someone to jump out at you.”
“I just. . . eh, it’s nothing.” I tried to down-play it but her assessment was dead-on, hopefully no pun intended. Her slight frown insisted she wanted a better answer and I grimaced, knowing she wouldn’t like the answer. “I’ve been thinking about Patrick.”
“Him again?” She clucked her tongue and walked around the desk. Perching on the edge, she softened her firm tone with a sympathetic look. “He needed professional help and you told him so. You did what you could.”
“I don’t feel like I did.”
“Enough. You’re not a psychiatrist. I know you like to dwell. At least dwell on something cheerful. Think about the ones you do help.”
“Thinking about the one I dropped is obsessively easier.”
“You don’t have to solve everyone’s problems, Soph. Your job is to tell people what to do while making it exciting to our readers. It’s not your job to make them listen.”
I scowled into my cup. Barbara was right. I did get overly involved with people and their problems. It was the way I’d been wired.
“What brought him up, anyway?”
“I got a letter from him yesterday,” I said.
She gave me a careful look as if she were trying to determine if our friendship would survive a phone call to Crisis Intervention. “You mean, from someone who sounds like him.”
“No, him. His handwriting, his signature.”
Barbara narrowed her eyes. “I thought you said–”
“I did.” I scooted on the slippery cushion so I could look up at her. “You saw the obituary.”