Bea considers pretending that she didn't hear her. Maryanne Lynde is a talker, a notorious busybody, and this short walk—the five blocks between the offices of the Gazette over on Queen Street and the Daily Grind—is the only time Bea will have to herself all day.
Instead, she takes a deep breath and heads down the street toward Mrs. Lynde. That is what's expected of her, after all, and that's what Bea does: she takes what is expected of her, and then she exceeds those expectations. She pokes her rectangular black glasses back up her nose and gives the older woman a practiced, polite smile. "Thank you, Miss Maryanne. I'm really grateful that Charlie gave me the column. It's a great opportunity to spotlight local women-owned businesses."
"Well, you earned it, didn't you? It's about time you got to do more than book reviews," Miss Maryanne says, and Bea feels a rush of satisfaction. She did earn it. Unlike some people. "So Charlie's treating you all right?"
Charlie—Charles Lockwood, the editor of the Remington Hollow Gazette—is treating Bea just fine. He's a great boss, encouraging but challenging. His daughter Savannah, home from Vassar for the summer, is another story entirely. She's a gossipy, entitled, brat who's writing the Gazette's new Around Town blog and competing with Bea for features.
"Charlie's great." Bea keeps the smile on her face. Nepotism aside.
"How's Helen?" Miss Maryanne stretches out one thick leg, clad in purple linen trousers, and massages her knee. "Dr. Kim says I might want to start thinking about a knee replacement myself."
Bea smooths her gray pencil skirt. "Gram's better, thank you. Still having a little trouble with the stairs. She's doing physical therapy twice a week."
"With that good-looking Jacob Kim, huh? I tell you, I wouldn't mind seeing him twice a week!" Miss Maryanne cackles. "It's nice that one of Doc's boys followed in her footsteps. And Emily's studying criminology, isn't she? That's a sort of science. Now, Mase, who knows what's going on with him these days." She shoots a disapproving look down toward the Tabby Cat Café. "Spends all his time frowning at that phone of his. He's going to give himself wrinkles. And did you see what he did with his hair? It's so spiky."
Bea smiles for real this time. "It's called a faux-hawk."
"Well, it doesn't do him any favors, if you ask me. And neither does all that eyeliner. Gay or not, in my day, young men didn't wear makeup!"
"Mase is bisexual," Bea says, "and it's called guyliner. It's very trendy."
"Is it now? Well, speaking of handsome guys"—Miss Maryanne gives an exaggerated wink—"how's that young man of yours?"
Bea's smile goes sour. Gram's friends love to tease her about Erik. She didn't used to mind. It used to make her blush and giggle, but lately...lately she wishes they would mind their own damn business.
"Let me see your hand," Miss Maryanne says.
Confused, Bea holds up her right hand, aware of her ragged nails and chipped peach polish. Biting her nails is one of her worst habits.
But Miss Maryanne shakes her curly gray head. "No, no, the other one. Your left hand." Bea holds her left hand out obediently, and the woman cackles. "No ring yet, huh? What're you two waiting for?"
Bea's stomach lurches. "What? Um—we—" she mumbles, flustered. Why doesn't she have some kind of witty comeback? Kat would. Her younger sister is stupidly self-possessed. Kat would probably give Miss Maryanne a speech on feminism, maybe rant about how marriage is an antiquated notion based on property laws and dowries and how her worth cannot be measured in goats. It would be ridiculous and dramatic; the old lady would be confused but admire her spirit. A real spitfire, that girl, she'd say.
No one ever calls Bea a spitfire. She's ambitious. She's smart. She's going places.
Whether she wants to or not.
"Maryanne, give them time. They're so young!" Lydia Merrick, owner of the Tabby Cat Café, strolls up right in time to overhear. She pats Bea's shoulder. "Ignore her, sweetheart."
"You'd better go on in. You don't want to keep Erik waiting!" Miss Maryanne chides.
Bea is unreasonably irritated that Erik is already waiting. They aren't supposed to meet for another ten minutes, but he's always early. She used to like that he respected her enough not to waste her time. Now his punctuality annoys her. Like being on time isn't good enough. Even when she's early, he's earlier.
"You know she's going to Georgetown," Miss Lydia says as Bea heads inside. "She doesn't need to get married at eighteen, Maryanne. It's different now. She's going to do big things someday!"
Bea used to be proud of her ambition. It felt like her defining characteristic, how much she wanted things. How determined she was never to settle. Now her dreams feel anxious-making and impossible. All year, she's felt like she's drowning, barely keeping her head above water, barely making the next A or the next deadline. She's doing everything and doing it well, but somehow it feels like it's never enough. She feels like she's never enough. If she's so flustered by this—her internship and Erik and getting ready for Georgetown—how will she ever be a serious journalist? Do serious journalists have panic attacks?
This excerpt ends on page 18 of the paperback edition.