“Where has my stapler gone?” Lily demands.
Everyone looks over at her.
“‘Fess up, somebody took my stapler.”
“You can borrow mine?” Kay offers.
“Well, the whole point of having my own one is that I don’t have to borrow anyone else’s.”
“Dude, it’s a stapler,” I say. “Get another one from the stationery room.”
“Did you take it?” Lily asks suspiciously, coming over to my desk. “Mine has a scratch along the top.”
My stapler is unscathed. She picks it up anyway and inspects it.
“You could literally save yourself all this time by just getting a new one,” Rebecca says.
Lily eyes her up next. “You have it, don’t you?”
“You’re actually insane,” Rebecca replies.
“Exactly what the thief would say!”
“My God, have you got nothing better to be doing then accusing us of stealing your stupid stapler?”
“OK, there’s no need to call the stapler names,” Lily says.
“But calling us thieves is OK?” Rebecca counters.
“Someone has taken it!”
“Yeah, probably your boss!”
“Oh.” Lily looks around. All our editors are at a meeting so she goes peering around her boss’s desk. “What do you know, James had it.”
“You can apologise at any moment,” I say.
“I am so terribly sorry.” She even bows.
“Yeah, you best be,” I say.
Lily is about to reply but is interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing – mine.
“Hi … Serraya, it’s Helen here. You booked me to do the proofread for one of your books?”
“Oh, yes, hello! How are you?” More importantly, why are you calling and not emailing?
“Hello, hello. I’m well thank you, yourself?”
“Good, thanks. Is everything OK with the proofread?”
“Yes, yes, quite all right. I’m sending it back to you today. I was just wondering though, having read your book, whether you might be interested in something similar from my husband?”
“Let me tell you what it’s about,” she says, not waiting for me to answer.
I slide down my seat.
“It’s set in the ancient ages and an army of vampires are coming for the Kingdom of humans, Bryant is their King’s name but we could always change that of course, and it’s about war, honour and love. Two star-crossed lovers…”
I start playing solitaire on my computer.
“So what do you think? Hello? Serraya?”
I start. “Oh, um, well it sounds interesting but given we already have something similar published it might not work well on our list. We also don’t accept unagented submissions.”
“Oh, I see. Well. Why don’t you talk to one of the real editors and ask them what they think?”
B I T C H.
“I’ll speak to one and see what they say.” My voice is sugary sweet.
“Excellent. I’m just off to post the proofs back to you now so you’ll have them soon.”
“Great, thanks. Bye!”
I hang up/slam my phone down.
“What was that about?” Rebecca asks.
“A proofreader trying to sell her husband’s book about vampires and some shit. I basically said no and she said why don’t I talk to one of the real editors and see what they think?”
“What an asshole,” Lily says.
“Hope she makes a typo in her next email,” I grumble.
“So, is everyone going to Nathan’s leaving do tonight?” Kay asks.
Everybody but me says yes.
“Suraya?” Kay asks.
“Sorry, if I cross the threshold of a pub I burst into flames.” Yes, I’m still scarred from the Christmas par-tay.
“Aw, come on, it’ll be fun!”
“So is going home to a wholesome meal and watching Netflix.” Oh, the life I lead.
“Just come for one drink? I’ll buy you a coke or an OJ?” Kay pleads.
“I’d really rather not,” I say. “Sorry.” Not sorry.
“Have you ever wanted to drink?” Lily asks.
“Nope,” I say. “Can’t miss something you never had.” *dab*
“I’m going to kill her!”
I look around. Victoria is standing at Rebecca’s desk, visibly fuming. Ooooh, gossip.
“What did she do now?” Bex asks.
“First, she asks me to send her grandmother chocolates because it was her birthday yesterday, like I’m her PA?”
“Ugh,” Rebecca groans. “She probably saw Publicity Assistant in your job title and thought it said personal?”
“Well, bloody learn to read if you’re working with books,” Victoria growls. “And then, at the launch, she clicked her fingers at me to get her another drink?”
I cringe and wonder who the ‘she’ is. Publishing isn’t nearly half as glam as it sounds.
“Come on, let’s go have a tea,” Rebecca says, getting up. She and Victoria head off.
“Ooooh, what’s in here?” Kay gasps.
Jessie has come back with post: a number of sparkly blue packages make their way around some desks. I am left sparkly blue package-less.
“It’s from Naomi at Panda,” Kay says excitedly, opening her package. The book is a creepy looking literary novel.
Sigh. I’ll know I’ve moved up in my career when I get sent proofs without asking for them. I go on Goodreads and enter some giveaways to make myself feel better.
At the end of the work day, the company heads off to the pub and I head off home. I’m still feeling a bit nervous outside a few weeks on from bottle guy but avoiding eye contact with everyone helps.
As I get out of my home station, just a little way down the road, I see a familiar face: Number Three Aunty. (No idea what her name is, I just know she’s my mum’s friend who lives at a house where the door number is three.) I try to cross the road before she sees me but I’m too late.
“Suraya!” She calls. Number Three Aunty is about five foot two and walks painfully slow but has eyes like a bat.
“Assalaamu alaykum, Aunty,” I say when I get near to her.
“Wa’alaykum salaam, how are you?” she asks, eyeing me up. Ugh.
“Good thanks, how are you?”
“Fine, fine. Now tell me, when’s the wedding?”
“Wedding? Do you mean my cousin Ruhel’s wedding next month?”
“No, no, I mean yours!” she says.
U wot. “Uh, I don’t know.” Is my wedding happening without me knowing?
“How old are you?” she asks, eyeing me up again.
“Ha! Tell me the truth!” she laughs.
“Suraya! I think you must be twenty something, right? Your mum did tell me the other day but I’ve forgotten. Anyway, how old can your husband be? I’m going to look for you.”
“Oh, you really don’t have to! Like really, you don’t. At all. Ever.”
“How else will you get married? Don’t worry, I’ll find you a beautiful groom with a good job! Pretty thing like you can’t be falling short of proposals. I would have suggested my son but he’s already married.”
“I’m really not looking right now,” I say.
“Your mum said you are?”
“Did she now?” I make a note to pour sugar into all her curries tonight.
“Ha, she said you were and to keep an eye out.”
“How thoughtful of her.”
“Acha, anyway, my legs will start aching if I don’t keep walking. See you soon, beti.”
It’s one thing being hit on by a guy; it’s a whole different thing being hit on by an old woman.
“MUM!” I yell as soon as I get in the front door.
“Yes?” she calls back from the living room.
“Stop telling people you want me to get married! I just got hit on by Number Three Aunty on the street!”
“She hit you?” Mum gasps.
“No, I mean she was being creepy and wants me to get married!”
“Well, why can’t we look? You don’t have to say yes to anyone unless you like them!”
“Oooh, here’s why: I don’t want to.”
“Don’t you have a boyfriend yet?” she asks suddenly, eyeing me unhappily. “Everyone but my daughter is getting married.”
“Ohhh, so now it’s not haraam to date? You used to scream if I even had a guy friend at school!”
“Well, you’re older now and less stupid, I hope. If you do like anyone, you can tell me.”
I scowl. “I’m so single I’ve forgotten what men look like.”
“Always with your jokes. You won’t be laughing when you’re forty and unmarried with no kids!”
“If you’re so eager for a wedding, why don’t you get married again!”
“HEY!” Dad calls from the other room.
“Great, now you’ve upset your dad,” mum says.
“He literally just said ‘hey’?”
“That means he’s upset,” she snaps. “What are you doing home so early, anyway? It’s a Friday, don’t you have friends to see?”
You know your social life is peak when your parents want you to go out.
“I’ll be in my room,” I snap back. “Making no noise and pretending that I don’t exist.” Harry and I are one.
“Good, and see if there’s a husband on the internet you can find seeing as you’re always on your computer.”
I make a note to put mayonnaise in her curries too.