Isabelle Lewis, top advertising salesperson at the Chatbrook Springs Sentinel newspaper,
has a habit of falling in and out of marriage. After her last divorce, she shoved the
emotional pain into a compartment in her brain to deal with later. With three teenagers
to raise, bills to pay, and sales quotas to meet, introspection was a luxury she couldn’t
afford. Her mind needed a happy place.
When Isabelle (Izzy) discovered online dating, it immediately became her favorite stress
reliever and best friend. Often, she’d steal into the night after her kids were asleep to meet
someone new. One fateful evening, the hunt for the perfect guy took a sinister turn when
the mystery man she met turned out to be her worst nightmare! Reluctantly pulled into
a web of lies, Izzy is forced to confront her demons.
Snarky, suspense-filled, and real, “The Hunting” is an exquisite entwining of the crippling
emotional fallout of divorce with the quest for a healthy, fulfilling relationship. This
inspirational story rivets!
“Izzy! So nice to see you! Been a while. How are you?”
“Great, Nellie. How’s life been on the top floor of St. Michael’s?”
“Absolutely crazy!” She laughs and holds her hands palms up, one on each side. “I don’t know how I do this, but somehow I do. Today is deadline for our in-house newsletter and the quarterly magazine we do for the mailing list. I’m glad I could squeeze you in!”
“Me, too. I’ve got some good opportunities to show you, but first, I wanted to introduce you to Birdie.” I indicate him with a sweep of my hand, not that this was necessary, but because I felt he expected some kind of fanfare. He nods, blinds her with his teeth, and reaches for her hand.
“I’ve heard so much about you!” He glances at me. I return the glance quizzically. If he’d heard a lot about her, it hadn’t been from me. “From, um, Izzy, here . . .” he says, as if I were a faithful but unnecessary pet. My brows knit together. So now I realize he’s not only inappropriate, but also a liar when it serves his purpose.
“I’m doin’ visits with the sales staff. Want to meet the important people, y’know, the ones that pay the bills!” Then Birdie throws his head back and laughs, still holding Nellie’s hand. She tugs it free, and smiles a thin, tight-lipped smile. I plop my pile on the conference table, and we sit. Nellie is rubbing her hand self-consciously, and I am about to deftly switch topics when Birdie decides to continue chomping on the foot in his mouth.
“So,” Birdie begins. My heart chugs a little faster. My hands, which are underneath the table in my lap, form tight little fists. “What do you have to say about your relationship with the Sentinel? Is it workin’ for ya? If not, we’ll sure figure out why.” Another blazing grin splits his face. He leans forward, places both elbows on the table, tents his hands, and waits for her response. The smells of cigar and cheap cologne sail in tandem across the table. I am thinking, already, how to square things with Nellie later. He must’ve skipped Diplomatic Small Talk 101 that most salespeople internalize before being let loose in the field. I am wondering if upper management even checked this guy’s resume.
Nellie, ever the professional, responds,“Well, ahh, Birdie, is it?” He nods. She tilts her head toward me and slants her eyes in my direction.
“Izzy is doing a great job for me. She makes doing business with the newspaper easy, and shows me the results. She constantly updates me with studies that show the bottom line, which I, of course, instantly forward to my Board of Directors to justify my budget with you. No complaints. How about you? How did you come to be sales manager at the Sentinel?”
Her tone is slightly punishing. Birdie folds his arms across his chest, clearly irritated. I can tell he is used to being in charge. I am beyond worried, closing in on mortified.
“Sweetie,” he says, “I have been in management since before you were born.” He smiles slightly, but his eyes do not. “I came to the newspaper by way of earnin’ it.” He presses thick lips together, and I rush to fill the uneasy silence.
“Nellie, ready to look over those opportunities I told you about?” She nods, relieved. I spread out multiple materials describing new sections and special magazines the Sentinel will be producing that will appeal to a healthcare demographic, and we become absorbed in technical details. Birdie taps his fingers, wiggles his legs, agitated. We ignore him. After twenty minutes, and a firm commitment from Nellie to be involved, the meeting ends.
Birdie slaps his hands on the table and pushes himself up from his chair.
“Good to meet ya, Nellie! You just give me a call if Izzy isn’t takin’ care of things, y’hear?”
And just when I think things could not get any worse, he winks at her. Mortification is now official. I hang behind a bit, and glance at Nellie’s face, silently communicating my regrets. She smiles, winks at me and rolls her eyes. My laugh flaps silently behind clenched teeth.
I trot to catch up with Birdie, who is striding toward the elevator with all the self-confidence and assurance of an absolute ass.
By the end of the afternoon, as I am taking Birdie back to his car at St. Michael’s, my female antennae are definitely aquiver. My eyes slice toward his profile. His hand is tapping the dashboard, his other slapping out a rhythm on his legs. He seems to be in constant motion. He feels my glance, turns his head toward me. His eyes are a lifeless ice-blue. I can see gray roots where his color is starting to grow out.
No doubt about it, there is something kind of appealing about him, in a sleazy, dark Marlon Brando sort of way. But the guy is seriously stuck in another era. The one where women are supposed to be pretty ornaments that are seen, not heard. And apparently, the one where women must listen to disgusting jokes and feel greedy male eyes on their bosoms. If the situation were not so ridiculous, I would laugh it off. But he is my boss, so I’m not laughing about anything. I’m just worried. Really, really worried.
Kerry Peresta’s publishing credits include a popular newspaper and e-zine humor column, “The Lighter Side,” short stories in the published anthology, “That One Left Shoe,” and her debut novel, recently released by Pen-L Publishing, “The Hunting,” contemporary women’s fiction. She spent twenty-five years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, and copywriter before deciding to devote more of her time to writing. She is currently working on her second novel, participating in writing conferences, and serving on the leadership team of the Maryland Writers’ Association. Kerry was a single mother for many years to four great kids, all grown and successfully carving out their own unique paths. She and her husband live in the Baltimore metro area. Learn more about Kerry at www.kerryperesta.com.
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