The Assistant

It had been a month since Rose Katz had hired me as an author’s assistant. We had gone for dinner and discussed what she wanted to accomplish, the direction her work was going in, how much she expected to write in a week, two, six. In the month since, I had fetched coffee, organised appointments, and done some light research as she sat, headphones on, typing for hours on an old typewriter. For what she was paying me… this seemed like less assisting than I had expected. After two days straight of sitting in a corner while she wrote and occasionally talked at me rather than to me, I began to suspect she just wanted some company. 

Finally, after a week of doing work on my own projects, she asked for my opinion on a page. It was Monday. I took the typed up sheet and read it carefully. The room was silent, except for the tapping of my heels as I paced, eyes closed. There was a twist of phrase I was trying to figure out and it just wasn’t coming together the way she- ‘Well?’ I opened my eyes slowly.  Rose was sitting at the desk, leaning back as if she had no care at all what for my opinion.

‘Well?’ she repeated a little more forcefully, her hands steepled together as she stared over them. ‘What do you think?’

‘I think you need to sit up in that chair. It could tip over.’ She righted it sheepishly. Ah. She cared. Good. ‘It’s good. You need to work on your phrasing in the third paragraph, correct the discrepancies between tenses in the first and third, and correct the fact that a character that grew up in the south of France in the early eleventh century is eating potatoes – turnips are more accurate. Also, they would have been eating salted pork, not beef. No peasant in the eleventh century is going to be able to access beef – they can’t afford it unless it’s a gift from their master and even then, humoral theory would have dictated that they would have gotten sick. But… despite all that… I like it.’ She exhaled.

‘Thank you.’ Rose handed me a red pen. ‘Now write all of that down on the page and I’ll edit it once I’m done the chapter…’ I leaned over the desk as requested and she got up to make us a cup of tea. ‘Sugar?’

‘Just one please…’ I noticed a spelling error halfway down the page. Odd. I circled it, as per usual. And more spelling errors… all over the page. Really odd. She was not the sort of writer who depended upon spell check. Her courses were famous for being perfectly typed up on the same typewriter I was leaning over now. I circled them all and scanned back over the page. They formed a sentence… M-a-y-I-k-i-… I flushed and stood up quickly, turning around to ask what she meant, and went hand first into two freshly made cups of tea. ‘Oh fuck, I’m so sorry!!’ I exclaimed.

Red with embarrassment and slight burns on my hands, I stood there frozen in shock, as she apologised over and over and rushed me to the basin, discarding the page to one side as she turned on cold water. As my hands cooled, Rose flitted around the apartment, finding burn cream and a towel to soak in cold water. ‘They’re not that bad,’ I said, trying to reassure her, trying to get my wits back so I could answer her question. Could she? Did I want her to? This was highly inappropriate. ‘I…’

She looked up. Her face was flushed as she interrupted me. ‘I’m sorry. For all of it. I shouldn’t have asked. It was inappropriate… I just… I thought we’d been getting along better and I wanted to ask in a way you could ignore as just spelling mistakes… Just. Please forget it. I fucked up. I’m sorry.’ Rose stopped talking and stared at her hands, fingers dripping as she ran more cold water through the towel for me. She was mortified. And rightly so. It had been inappropriate. But I’d thought about it… a few times actually. How her lips would feel as I pressed myself against her. How her hair would fall over my face, a red curtain that could cover a thousand blushing cheeks. But…

‘It was inappropriate.’ I said, staring down at the towel as she placed it on my hands. ‘And… I… think I need to resign.’ Rose began to protest but I held up my hands in mute appeal. ‘No.. no, sh.’ She applied the burn cream and bandages to my fingers, then stood over the sink, wringing the towel slowly between her hands.

‘You want to resign…’ she said softly.

‘I do. I need to resign and you need to think about if this is something you actually want when I’m not around all the time.’ I picked up my bag and carefully scrawled my personal number on the page. ‘If you do still want this in a week… call me? I want to think about it and give you a real answer.’ Rose nodded. I hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. ‘Talk soon… if you want.’

She waved a hesitant goodbye and I felt my heart ache a little. I should have said yes.  Would I have the chance again?

***

Waiting by the phone seems to make time stretch longer. By Thursday, I found another position, as a court transcriber. Interesting work for someone who wanted to one day write crime fiction. Yet every morning, I’d glance at her number. Wonder if I should text that I was counting down the week… mention the poisoner who laced the glace cherries on cupcakes knowing the victim only ate the cherries… but no. It was her choice.

A week passed. Monday came and went and there was no call. Did she still want me? I had no idea but the thoughts of her didn’t drift away. I still wanted to kiss her. I spent Tuesday in a haze, hurt, puzzled. Had it just been a passing fantasy? Seduce your writer’s assistant for a story? I got back to my studio late Wednesday night, after yet another unproductive day, and found her sitting on the front steps. She looked like Poison Ivy, if Poison Ivy had turned to journalism.

Green skirt, white business shirt, green necklace and leather bag. I wondered if she had a poisoned pen… ready to rip out my heart with just a stroke.

‘You didn’t call.’ I rummaged in my handbag for my keys, trying to seem nonchalant. It had hurt to be ignored.

‘No.’ Rose looked a little ashamed. ‘Did you want me to?’ She seemed to be begging for my forgiveness or approval, I wasn’t sure.

I stopped staring at her necklace. ‘That wasn’t the point.’ I said, slightly angrily, pulling out my keys. ‘If you truly wanted this, you were to call me, so I could think about if I do.’ There was no way past her skirts. If I wanted to get inside, I would have to trample her. She stood, leaving enough room for me to slide past.

‘You think I don’t want you?’ Rose breathed out, frustrated. ‘I’m terrified to admit I want you. It was wildly inappropriate!’

I grew frustrated in response to her frustration. ‘It wouldn’t be anymore… we’re not colleagues. Just two people that want each other. You thought I hadn’t thought about it? How I would make what you had asked appropriate? Because I wanted you too?’ As suddenly as it had arisen, the tension between us vanished.

‘Wait.. you thought about it?’ Her eyes lit up and with that, my patience wore thin. She wanted me. I wanted her. And all this back and forth was torture. Enough dancing around the issue. We were already pressed against each other in the narrow entrance way. I raised up on the balls of my feet to her mouth, leaning against the wall for support. She was so much taller than me… But that thought faded away as I pressed in and kissed her, feeling her lips part slightly with surprise before she pulled me closer to her. Rose moaned and I teased her lips apart slightly more with my tongue. She tasted sweet, like a cinnamon latte, and I giggled slightly as I realised she’d given into a nervous habit before seeing me. Hands in hair and on waists, I lost myself in a cloud of red hair and the smell of her perfume.

After what seemed like forever and no time at all, we broke apart, breathy and giggling, suddenly aware we were making out in a stairwell like teenagers. Rose looked down at me, shyly tucking her hair behind her ear. ‘So… does this count as calling you?’ I burst out laughing.

‘Yes. Yes, it does.’ I kissed her again, softer this time. ‘Now… can I take you on a date? Tomorrow night?’ She nodded shyly. ‘Good. Now… my dear Rose… may I kiss you?’ I grinned up at her, teasingly.

‘Yes. Yes please.’ Time vanished again and I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.


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