“It isn’t what you think. I promise.”
Eyes the same color blue as mine stare at me. Judge me. Scold me. The expanse of a desk is between us, but I can feel my father’s fury as if he were sitting beside me.
He pinches the bridge of his nose and gives a sharp shake of his head. “Is there anything you’ve ever loved besides yourself, Sidney?”
“That isn’t fair.” Tears burn as I try to swallow over the bitter pill disappointing my father has lodged there.
“Isn’t it, though?”
His words cut deep. But I screwed up. Again. At least that’s the only way he’ll ever see it. Frank Thorton is never one to allow room for error.
“Tell me what to do, Dad. Tell me how to make this better.” My hands tremble, but I grip the arms of the chair to steady them.
Thortons never show that they are intimidated.
“I’ve let your mom protect you for too long. I’ve let her persuade me to give you chance after chance when you continually prove to me that you don’t deserve it.”
“Dad . . .”
“This is a business. This is my business. This is how I’ve provided you with those chances to do all the nonsense that you do. I love you, Sid, with all my heart, but if you worked for any other company, you would have been fired many times over.”
“All I did was—” All I did was rush to Zoey’s aid when she called me. I bite my tongue and stop myself from saying more. Excuses aren’t allowed. Even if they were, I could have called. I could have let him know something happened so that someone else could cover for me.
But I didn’t.
“How do you think my employees feel about you? Would they call you hard working and innovative or would they think you’re spoiled and get to keep your job strictly because of your last name?”
“I told you, it isn’t what you think.”
“Then what should I think?”
My mind flickers back to the frantic phone call from Zoey. The bruises starting to mar her skin when I arrived, my rage over how a man could treat a woman that way, and her pleas for me not to tell anyone. As much as I know it would save my ass if I explained to my father why I didn’t show up for the interview with the fashion-designer-turned-whistleblower Wendy Whitaker, I can’t. I gave her my word and it wouldn’t matter to him.
His impatience radiates around us, and I know from experience that it’s best if I just keep quiet. The last word always has to be his, but I speak anyway.
“I know you won’t believe me when I tell you someone needed me and I went. I lost track of everything dealing with the situation, and when I realized what time it was, it was too late. All I can tell you is that it was for a valid reason.”
“And that reason was?”
I stumble over how to explain. “I can’t say.” My words are soft, my resolve a mixture of defeat and defiance.
He just purses his lips and stares at me over his steepled fingers.
“I screwed up. No excuses.”
“Thank you. You know how I feel about petty excuses.”
“I do, and I also know you love this company. I do, too. Journalism and editing are my passion, and overseeing a magazine is everything to me.”
He eyes me with skepticism. “Are they, or is this just a passing fancy on the Sidney Thorton express until you find the next who-knows-what at the next stop?”
“That isn’t fair,” I say even though I know I haven’t done anything to prove his theory incorrect. My last-minute trips and changing obsessions. My habit of picking up a new hobby or fad, only to put it down when something new comes along.
“If you could pick your dream job within the company, what would it be?”
His question throws me momentarily. “What do you mean?”
“We own ten magazines. If you could pick the magazine and the position, what would it be?”
Is this a trick question?
“Why?” I stand and move to the wall of windows that overlook the San Francisco skyline and valley below.
“Just humor me.” His chair squeaks, and I know he’s turned to watch me. “If I know your goals, then maybe I can help you attain them.”
“The editor-in-chief of Haute. No question.” I think back to the years I’ve spent imagining what I would do with the magazine. The original ideas. The new twists on the tried-and-true stories that have been published time and again. How I would put a fresher face on an industry standard that is slowly fading amid the tapering-off printed editions.
“It combines my two loves—fashion and talking about fashion with people who love it just as much as I do.” I turn to face him, needing him to see I’m serious. “Add that to getting to oversee the perfected delivery of such stories . . . I mean, it’s everything I could ask for.”
He holds my gaze, gauging whether he believes me or not. I deserve his quiet scrutiny—I know I do. That doesn’t make it any easier to stand here and not squirm.
“What would be your least favorable position?”
Tread lightly, Sid. He’s up to something here.
“As long as I’m learning new things to gain experience to one day earn me that editor-in-chief job, I would be happy anywhere in the industry.”
“That’s a line your mother would fall for. Too scripted. Too perfect. Don’t bullshit me, Sidney.” Again, he steeples his fingers and leans back in his chair, as is his habit when he’s deep in thought. “I’m in a quandary here over several things.”
Quandaries are never a good thing when it comes to my father.
“What type of things?” Why is it I’m twenty-eight and my father can still make me nervous?
“First off, I’m mad at myself for giving you the leeway to think that silver spoon you were born with gets to stay in your mouth without you having to earn it.” My gulp is followed by his sigh. “You do great work when you apply yourself. Incredible work, actually. Your eye for what will resonate with readers is instinctive, your ideas innovative, your take on stories fresh.”
“But . . .”
“But you’re missing the big picture, and that’s my fault.”
I shake my head, trying to follow his line of thought, but he holds up his hand to tell me there is more to come. “You know you’re my pride and joy. But I’ve done you a disservice. I’ve let you think working here is a given. That you don’t have to act responsibly when your last name is Thorton.”
“I know that. I’ve never assumed—”
“You’ve never assumed, and yet, you’ve never had to get a job outside of Thorton Publishing. So, answer my question. If you had to pick a magazine that would be your least favorite to work on, which one would it be?”
“C’mon, Dad, you know me.”
“So . . . what? No kids. No family stuff?”
“Just no domesticity,” I finish for him, and he chuckles.
“Ah, yes, I forgot. The woman who plans on jet-setting her whole life and never being strapped down with a child.”
“You make that sound harsh. It isn’t a bad thing to know what you want and not conform to societal standards about what a woman should or shouldn’t want.”
“Only the fashionably acceptable for you. And domesticity is not that, right?”
“That isn’t what I meant. It’s just . . . I don’t know those things—motherhood and children—they’re nowhere near my radar, so that would make it hard for me to contribute to a magazine that is focused on them. ”
He chews on the inside of his cheek for a moment. “The board and I have been talking about eliminating two or three magazines from our portfolio.”
“Isn’t there decreased circulation across the board in this digital age?”
“There is.” He nods resolutely. “But these also have a decline in online subscriptions and viewership. Of the three titles, there’s one in particular I want to save. It is one of my first magazines, and it holds sentimental value to me.”
“Okay . . .” The different titles of Thorton Publishing’s magazines run through my head, and I try to pinpoint which one he’s referring to but can only draw a guess.
“In order to save it, I need to beef up its online visibility. I need more hits to it, more buzz about it . . . more social media draw. With a fresh take that can reel in new readers, I can net more advertising.”
“Okay,” I repeat, a little quieter now.
“I think you’re just the person for the job.”
“What do you mean?”
Really, I’m more intelligent than I sound, but hell if I’m not standing here and staring at my dad as if it’s judgment day. If it’s a magazine with decreased circulation, it’s most definitely one I’m not keen on.
I just screwed myself, didn’t I?
He takes one look at my expression and reminds me, “If you really want that job at Haute, you’d do anything to get it, right?”
“Even figure out a way to save Modern Family and prove you’re worthy of the job?”
“Modern Family? As in ‘what’s for dinner,’ and ‘how to get your kid to behave,’ or ‘silly summer crafts’?” I sound calm while I’m cringing on the inside at what feels like a major demotion.
“As in domesticity.” His grin is wide and unforgiving.
This is a test.
He’s watching me closely, waiting for the immediate rejection I refuse to give. Domesticity—motherhood, parenting, kids in general—is the one subject I know almost nothing about. Strike that. I know plenty about those things, but they are so far removed from my current life that it makes the notion hard to swallow. I can fake it with the best of them, but stepping in and working side by side with the people at the magazine and pulling it off? Now, that might be hard to do.
But editor-in-chief of Haute?
“I can’t just walk in and run a whole magazine.”
“Rejecting the idea of hard work already, are you?”
“That’s not what I mean.” I sigh in frustration. “I mean, to step in without any footing and—”
“Relax, Sid.” He chuckles when I don’t find his little joke amusing at all. “I don’t expect you to step in and take over. Modern Family has its own very capable and tough editor-in-chief, Rissa Patel.”
“Great,” I mutter through my forced smile. I can already see her finding ways to make my life hell.
“It will be. She can teach you a lot, but your main focus will be to elevate the magazine’s online component. There are a million different and innovative ways to capture new readers and improve advertising. It’s your job to figure out what that way is and how to implement it. Whatever you do, I need to see an increase.”
I think of the offices for Modern Family in Sunnyville, the town where I grew up. I think of leaving my very sleek apartment in my high-rise overlooking downtown San Francisco. I think of my best friend, Zoey, and having to leave her after everything that just happened. Sure, she says she’s fine now. Of course, she’ll say it again when I tell her I have to leave. But hell if I’m not going to worry about her or that prick she swears she’ll never see again while I’m gone.
And I think of having to leave it all behind for a while to satisfy my dad with the lesson he is trying to teach me.
My resolve wavers. “I know nothing about—”
“And before you answer, I should preface this offer by saying it isn’t an automatic. You don’t do this and then step into the editor’s shoes at Haute. Veronica will be retiring at the end of next year. That will give you six months to turn Modern Family around and then another six months to a year to learn what you need to do the job. Then and only then—with her blessing—will I promote you to your dream position.”
“So, if I can prove myself to you and Veronica, the position is mine, correct?
“Should I assume that you’re expecting me to leave soon?”
His tight smile already has me canceling my plans to head to Santa Barbara at the end of the month. The trip I’ve looked forward to for weeks. “Of course. Time is money.” He glances at his calendar and then back to me. “Take your trip with your friends, but know this . . . you will be working on it every day until then from here on out, and the day after you return, you will be in Sunnyville, hands-on. You should be able to accomplish plenty in the month, so when you arrive there, you can hit the ground running.”
“Okay.” I fight the sudden swell of tears that burn. Are they because I know he’s showing me a glimpse of mercy now only to be merciless on me later? Or is it because he’s my dad and I hate that I’ve let him down?
“I’m not messing around here, Sid.”
“I know.” The words barely come out.
“And don’t expect a warm welcome.” I swear amusement flashes through the blue of his eyes. “They’ll think you’re there to spy on them and report back to me. They’re already on edge over rumors about the magazine being yanked and their jobs taken away.”
“Lovely.” And then a thought hits. “What about the current staff? Isn’t there someone there already qualified? Won’t they be mad at me for taking a position from them?”
“That will be your first test in management. How to handle people with kindness and tact and earn their respect.”
“Oh.” Excitement flutters in my belly. The kind that flushes across your skin and puts thoughts in your head that you want to hope are real but fear aren’t.
I snap my eyes up to meet my father’s and realize he’s looking for a response.
“No hesitation? No, ‘no, I don’t want to move from the city’? No, ‘oh my God, there are no malls in Sunnyville’?”
Don’t, he’s just being a jerk.
“Don’t let me down.”