“How’s the burrito baby?” Monica eyes my blouse as the last bite passes my sour cream smeared lips. Making yum-yum noises, I savor that last swallow in answer, finally noticing why Monica is checking out my assets.
Giggling self-deprecatingly in starts and stops, I snatch a napkin off my desk. “Oops! My chin has a hole in it.”
“Before my mom died…” Monica trails off, struggling to get her emotions in check.
I leave her be. After four years of being best friends, we get each other. She’s a bit too much like I am. I sense Monica will finish her thought when she’s ready. She’ll instinctively know my silence is not disinterest but patience in allowing her to put words to her emotions.
Busying myself by balling up the takeout wrapper, I end up licking a long line down the side of my palm, swallowing the messy salsa instead of using a wet wipe. That wet wipe gets used for a greater purpose.
I may eat like a hog now, never having been this heavy in my entire life, but I am not a slovenly mess. Dabbing at my blouse, I’m relieved it’s printed with a pattern of gray checks to hide the fact that my lunch didn’t seem to find its way into my mouth.
“My mom was built more like…” Yet again, Monica finds herself at a loss for words as she sits across from me on the other side of my desk, hand waffling in the air.
After a lifetime of struggling with an eating disorder, Monica came by that naturally after watching the people around her make a woman’s body size a mitigating factor on whether or not they were a good human being.
Thin meant being worthy.
Worthy of attention and love– worthy as a human being.
Worthy of a man’s attention, when it was the women who weaponized this ideal, not the men. Body size is an indicator on worth, mothers twisting their daughter’s mindsets, with their peers solidifying this toxic ideal.
How do I know this?
You’d be pretty if you were thinner.
Such a pretty girl– too bad she’s so dang fat.
If you’d drop a dress size or three, you might get a boyfriend.
As a former teenage girl, raised in a household with both a mother and a sister who always commented on weight before anything else, currently being bullied by an entire city of ignorant women, I swore to never infect my children. The first time I met Monica, I recognized the agony residing deep inside her, spreading like an infection to every facet of her life.
It was hate-at-first-sight, because we were too much alike, displaying our similar rage at the world in differing ways.
“Fat like me?” I offer as a suggestion, the sting of my own words causing me to flinch in disgust.
To say I’m unhappy would be an understatement, no matter how hard I try not to feed into the ideal. My life is not even remotely what I wish it to be, not in my wildest imaginings. No home to call my own, same with the husbands and kids, I’ve looked to outside sources to vent my emotion.
Restraint is the only relatively healthy outlet for my rage.
Lack of love, comfort, and affection, combined with a plethora of disrespect– both from everyone around me and from myself –the deepest of depressions is cannibalizing my identity. I have no fucking clue who I am anymore, but it’s easier to eat my feelings, since there is no resolution to be found. My happiness doesn’t matter, so fuck it.
Fuck it all to hell.
If I want to eat a burrito the size of a newborn for lunch, it’s better than the alternatives.
Screaming myself to death.
Dissolving into nothingness.
“Mom was a bigger woman– Dad would make snide remarks.” Monica goes introspective on me again, and my mind scrambles to find a way to change the subject. Alec is due any second for our weekly editors meeting, and Monica wouldn’t appreciate him seeing her break down. “Which is how I ended up being susceptible to anorexia.”
A loaded silence descends, as I’ve been on every leg of Monica’s recovery. The bone density issues. The decrease in organ function. The infertility. The insecurity. The lapses and triumphs.
Boatloads of weed, followed by the munchies.
“Mom thought she was fat– Dad didn’t. He was crazy for her. Mom chose to see his commentary in a negative light.” Big brown eyes roll dramatically, no doubt my transparent facial expressions are giving away the never-ending inner monologue playing out inside my head. “Mom had eye-catching cleavage, and Dad would get snarly, because he didn’t like anyone else looking at her assets. Said he wanted to tear out his buds’ throats for thinking about Mom while they jerked off. But there was no hiding those mammoth boobs.”
“Your mouth to God’s ears.” I mutter dramatically, eyes flicking from the buttons straining on my blouse to the ceiling above. “And they only got bigger with every kid.”
Releasing naughty chuckles, Monica looks mighty pleased with herself, since her recovery meant she gained a pretty décolletage. “Mom always had food going down the front of her shirt. Her giggle was naughty as all get out, as she dug her hand down there, all the way past her wrist, plucking whatever the hell she was eating from her bra, then pop it into her mouth. Said feeding her boobs made ‘em bigger.”
“Your mom woulda been my kind of gal.” I murmur in appreciation, after seeing rare glimpses of that type of personality come out of Monica over the years. The more she trusted me, the more she opened herself up to being vulnerable around me.
“How’s your burrito baby?” I manage to smoothly change the subject to something worth celebrating.
“Oh, Lord!” Kayla steps into my office– I never bother to shut the door. I’ve weeded out our staff until they’re only the ones I trust. Ezra never graces Edge Publishing with his presence anymore, completely forgetting we exist. “It’s Taco Tuesday everyday with this woman.”
“It is Tuesday,” flows in a deadpan tone from my lips, just as Kayla comes to stand next to me. Doing her personal assistant duties, she tosses my lunch into the trash, fetches me a fresh bottle of water, then locates the books I wish to discuss with my editors.
“Speaking of burrito babies…” Monica trails off, eyeing Kayla, leaving it up to me to finish what she started.
This was supposed to be a tag-team effort, woman!
“I made you an appointment, Kayla.” Shifting in my seat, I can sense Kayla’s discomfort flavoring the air. “My calls will be directed to Alec’s assistant’s phone for however long you need.”
“What are you talking about?” Looking vaguely betrayed, Kayla turns on me, foamy blonde hair arcing around her shoulders as she moves. “Don’t you need my help? It’s meeting day.”
Meeting day is a big deal at Edge Publishing.
Monica, Alec, and I hole ourselves up in my office from lunch until after-hours on Tuesdays, bitching and moaning about every fucking thing in the literary world. We tend to draw a crowd in the hallway– remember how my door always stays open –and Kayla makes sure we’re properly hydrated.
Across from us, a chair scuffing across the carpet has my eyes flicking to Monica. Standing from her seat, shaky hand slowly working a tan blouse from a pencil skirt, the pale white of a half-slip is revealed. After some maneuvering, the undergarment is push down, and a tiny bump is exposed.
“Oh!” Kayla’s chuckle is lighthearted and warm as she plunks several manuscripts onto the blotter in front of me. “You must’ve had a burrito too! Pretty undies.”
Blushing an innocent pink high in her cheeks, Monica is not pretending to be coy. Palm softly cupping her tummy, she gazes at the top of my desk, rather than looking at Kayla or me.
“You’re the first person I’ve told– besides Kat.” Monica gestures at me, still refusing to look me in the eye. The woman is more modest and private than even I am, and that’s saying something. “I’m older, at risk from decades of anorexia, and struggled with infertility for four years with Dex… so I waited until I hit my second trimester–”
“Oh! My! GAWD!” Kayla squawks in a girly, high-pitched tone, nearly causing my ears to bleed, as she stumbles around my desk. “You’re pregnant! Can I touch it? You’re so teeny tiny– you’d never know.”
Wincing inwardly for Monica, teeny tiny is a trigger for her, one I’ve sympathetically adopted over the years. This is Monica’s healthy weight, so to hear teeny tiny while twelve weeks into a pregnancy… but Monica is nothing but pragmatic. She instinctively knows what Kayla meant, along with the intent, versus getting hung up on her own baggage and twisting a passing comment around as a way to get butthurt.
The shine of nothing but pure, radiant love Kayla is glowing toward Monica erases a phrase that has triggered her countless times over an entire lifetime. Not a negative or positive– fact.
This is Monica’s first, with super tight abdominal muscles– she won’t have much of a baby bump, even close to delivery, and that’s what Kayla meant.
Entire face glowing bright red from embarrassment, Monica isn’t one to enjoy attention. “Dex doesn’t even know yet. I didn’t want to get his hopes up, only to lose it. So I’m going to tell him on Christmas day, then wait until I hit the third trimester to tell anyone but you guys and my dad.”
“Oh, I’m honored.” Beyond touched, Kayla’s palm rests between her heavy breasts, tears of pure joy glistening in her eyes. “I’m so happy for you.” Turning overemotional, she doesn’t understand why Monica is telling her before Dexter.
“All mentions of burrito babies are an inside joke from here on out,” I tease Monica and Kayla. “Unless it’s about me, ‘cuz I love me some food.”
Hiccupping on laughter, Monica struggles to tuck her blouse back in, because she finds me beyond hilarious. The joke goes right over Kayla’s head.
“Don’t you want more kids?” is an accusation if I’ve ever heard one. Brows furrowed in the center of her creamy forehead, Kayla doesn’t understand the pressure I’ve been under. She bought into the lie, even though she’s lived beside me this entire time.
I love the girl to death, but with Aaron as her husband, I cannot trust Kayla with my deepest thoughts, fears, and emotions.
“Put it this way…” Chair creaking as I lean back, the poor thing has too many miles on it, after so many long days and nights for this workaholic. “I haven’t had sex in years… I take my birth control at the same time as my Omeprazole. If I don’t take my meds, I get heartburn by midday. If I get heartburn, I know I missed my birth control… that’s how much I do not want any more children.”
Completely gobsmacked, Kayla gawks at me like she doesn’t recognize me, to the background soundtrack of Monica losing her shit with large guffaws.
Monica knows my deepest, darkest thoughts, fears, and emotions, so she gets the inside joke. No way in hell am I having more kids, because my husbands see me as nothing but a surrogate they can bully and shame into compliance.
This is not the life I wish to lead, not in my wildest imaginings. In another life, with another husband, I would want more children. But this is my lot in life, and I’m not fucking stupid. I hide my birth control in with my heartburn meds, simply because I don’t trust Ezra as far as I can throw him. He’s the type to fiddle with my pills to give Cort what he desires.
More kids carried within my body.
With complete disregard to how used that makes me feel.
“The reason I routed my calls to Sean’s phone is because I made you an appointment with the OBGYN Monica and I share.” Waiting a few seconds to continue, I check to see if what I said is sinking in…
“Kayla?” Reaching across my desk, I take her lovely hand in mine, thumb rubbing soothing circles. “I know everyone tries to say it’s a myth about menstruation cycles syncing up when women spend a lot of time together.”
“I don’t understand.” Eyes glassy, bottom lip trembling, nothing but confusion flows from Kayla.
Monica nods at me as she retakes her seat, praising me for my delivery.
“My sister is four years older than me. Yet another myth I’ve proven correct. Her first period brought on mine not three months later. Hormone surges or whatnot. I was only ten at the time. From then on, even to this day, after decades of not living together, our periods are synced. Ava’s and mine are synced. Since we moved to Misery Castle, just about every female goes hormonal at the same time.”
“Our periods are synced,” flows numbly from deliciously pouty lips. Aaron is one lucky bastard. “I always make sure to buy loads of chocolate and salty snacks for the breakroom as soon as I start spotting.”
She still doesn’t get it.
“Kayla.” After another squeeze to her hand, I let go, then sink back into my chair. “I had my period three weeks ago… and you didn’t.”
Palm flying up to cover her mouth. “Oh!”
“So I made you an appointment for this afternoon– take the rest of the day off. Hell, take the rest of the week off. But I need you to get checked out, just in case it’s lady problems and not an unexpected blessing.”
Knees no longer supporting her, Kayla leans on the corner of my desk, blue eyes the size of teacup saucers. “Is there something in the water? First Syn, then Gretchen, now Monica… me? Who’s next?”
“It sounds like a goddamn fertility deity is hovering over Dominion,” is cursed underneath my breath. “With my luck, I’d end up with an immaculate conception.” Kayla flashes me a confused expression. “Ya know, with the fact I’m on birth control and not having sex.”
“Oh,” flows on a shaky chuckle, palm instinctively doing that baby bump cupping business. “This is unexpected.”
“Am I interrupting?” Alec is hanging in the open doorway, spectacled face checking to see if he’s welcome. “I can come back… but we’re collecting a crowd of busybodies out here,” is directed out into the hallway in a louder than necessary voice to warn Edge Publishing’s office force to get back to their spaces and get to work.
“I’ll get refreshments before I go–”
“Sean’s already on it.” Alec thinks he’s helping, but in actuality, he’s hurting Kayla’s feelings.
That server soul of Kayla’s gets bent out of whack if anyone so much as attempts to wrest her duties away from her. Alec and Sean are being helpful and polite, when Kayla will only see it as them trying to prove they can do her job better than her, meaning her position is unnecessary.
Undoubtedly pregnant, tears are threatening to spill from Kayla’s eyes.
“Sean sucks at feeding and watering us, but I think we can survive, even if we have to clean up after ourselves.” Thank heaven above, Alec is intuitive. “Nobody takes care of us the way you do, Kayla.”
Deft hands fall to land on Kayla’s shoulders, Alec rubbing away any slight he may have dealt. “Not like we can ask Alisha to help us.”
“Hey!” Monica acts offended over Alec insulting her personal assistant, but her voice is heavily laced with amusement. “You got me on that. My cousin even forgets to feed her cat.”
The more often Dr. Zeitler forgot to ride the elevator up to his precious Edge Publishing, which was only created to coddle Cort… the longer Cort has gone without writing a publishable book… there was a changing of the guard so to speak.
I fired the majority of Edge Publishing’s staff without Ezra’s consent, not a single person questioning me for my decisions. They don’t treat me as the boss’s wife. They don’t treat me as the senior editor. They treat me as if this is my company, because they trust me to do right by our authors, the books, and the employees.
Besides Monica and Alec, as they worked closely with me since I arrived in Dominion, Kayla was the only employee who remained that had been hired before I came to be at Edge Publishing.
When surrounded by vultures, I needed a sanctuary to call my own, filled with people I hand-selected due to trust. Every employee at Edge was personally vetted by me, with a stringent probationary period. There was a large turnover rate for about six months, but we’ve been holding strong with the same employees for two years running.
We’re not a huge corporation. We have our squabbles. We eat our crow, offer apologies, then move on, because that’s what should happen in a family.
Monica and Alec’s personal assistants complement one another, which is why we practically allow them to do whatever they want, whenever they want. Kayla is more of their mother hen, even though she’s the youngest of the three.
Alec’s husband of seven years was hired as his personal assistant, only to discover he enjoyed creating ironic memes in his spare time at home. Sean now oversees our social media graphics, as I didn’t want to step on any toes in our graphics department.
Alisha was hired as Monica’s personal assistant. Her only employable quality was that she would listen to her boss, because she is the younger, only cousin to a very controlling Monica. Alisha is from New Jersey, the epitome of exactly what you’d expect from that description. She’s not much on working, so we tossed her ass on a sofa with a laptop and gallons of Diet Coke, then let her loose on social media. Alisha is a goddess when it comes to exposure for Edge Publishing and our authors, getting views and likes through the roof.
Monica, Alec, and I have Vent Tuesdays. We bottle up everything from the weekend, as that is when we can best concentrate on just reading, without outside needs in the office demanding our attention. Monday is a no-go, since that is Satan’s day. Tuesday fit the bill best.
Alisha, Sean, and Kayla go out on Friday nights for a drink and calorie-laden appetizers. We pretend it’s not Vent Friday, where the three of them diss the hell out of their bosses after a hard work week.
“I better get going then.” Kayla leans down to kiss my cheek in goodbye, then flashes the office a blinding smile, so filled with adoration and happiness, it’s hard not to have those emotions radiate to my cold, dead heart.
“Call us!” Monica orders just as Kayla slips out into the hallway, an order that will be heeded, because Kayla is conscientious and respectful.
“I have so much to talk about.” Giddy, Alec swaggers over to the far side of my office to fetch a cushioned armchair from the seating area. I did the same for Monica when she arrived, shuffling the hardback chairs to the side of the doorway. Pregnant ladies shouldn’t have to sit across from their boss like a naughty child in the principal’s office.
“I’ll get that,” flows in a gravelly voice a second before Sean steps into the room.
“For shit’s sake!” Alec snaps back, head whipping to the side. The husbands have an odd dynamic, which seems to change with the tides. Not once have I seen them touch outside of neccessity. “I’m not weak.”
Mutt and Jeff.
Alec is a dinky, geeky fellow, with a quick mind and a tongue as sharp as a knife’s blade. Sarcastic, witty, and funny as all hell, Alec and I get along famously. Sean is a mountain of a man, with flannel and a beard, but he’s not playing a role like a hipster. Sean was a stay-at-home husband, working on crafty things he sells on Etsy, before deciding to put in a half-day working at Edge. The ties that bind is the simple fact that those ironic memes Sean was creating were on the verge of being caustic in their humor.
When two assholes collide– the pair met because Sean made a meme out of an image Alec posted, and the rest they say is history.
They bicker like a litter of cats trapped in a sack, not realizing they’re fighting for the same things. Watching this over the past few years has shown me what is missing in my marriage, same as watching Dexter and Monica grow closer by the second.
“I know you’re not weak.” Sean bats Alec’s hands away from the back of the armchair. With zero effort, Sean picks the chair up. “Maybe I don’t want to watch you struggle at something I can do without getting out of breath. Maybe I want to show you how much I appreciate you. Maybe you ought to let me keep my balls.”
Monica and I share a dreamy look, knowing Alec protests too much.
“Maybe I wanna keep my own balls. Ya ever think about that? It makes me feel like you think I’m useless.” Alec mutters unsavory things underneath his breath, as he dutifully follows his husband across the office. Sean makes sure the chair is placed just right, then shoves Alec’s ass on the seat. “You think I’m a child,” sounds like nothing more than the pout of a child.
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness,” is Sean’s parting comment, after flashing each of us a loaded look, since that is definitely a fault we all share.
Little dog syndrome– the whole lot of us has it.
Our assistants deserve Vent Fridays. Kayla only humors me. Sean gives Alec’s shit right back to him with some of his own added in. Alisha takes the order from Monica, shrugs, then does her own thing, never planning on doing it in the first place. They have our numbers.
“Ladies.” Alec produces a piece of paper with a flourish, lines of precise handwriting covering the page. “Where should we begin? Did you hear about the latest scandal to rock Washington?”
We spend the next hour or so tearing our government to bits from all sides. Monica doesn’t share Alec’s and my political belief system. Instead of fighting it out, or even agreeing to disagree, we usually hear each other out. We may not agree when it’s all said and done, but we feel more open-minded by not being narcissistic enough to assume we’re right and the other side is automatically wrong.
Perception is reality.
Alec is hardcore politically minded. I tend to get riled up, because it’s better than admitting my life is in the crapper. Monica knows how to shut that shit down. Once or twice, Sean pops in to add his two cents, surprisingly agreeing with Monica more often than not.
Raw, open and exposed, left emotionally distraught, we move on, because arguing about politics solves nothing. The only thing we agree on is how no matter the party, politicians are evil incarnate. Negative or positive, the politicians win and the people lose. Why are we fighting over them, filled with smug condescension? As if our team is winning or losing, making us better than the other side. We’re stronger as a whole, so all we’re accomplishing is to weaken ourselves.
We treat this as if a person on a reality program is going off the rails, getting off on the juicy scandalous nature, when it’s obvious the producers are influencing the actions of the contestants. Sleight of hand, like attempting to enjoy The Bachelor after being jaded by the reality of UnREAL. You can’t unsee that shit– The Bachelor is unwatchable now for me, same goes with championing worthless scum.
This is real life, not a game or a reality show.
“I can’t anymore.” Monica raises her palms out in a stop motion. “Let’s not get my blood pressure rising– it’s not good for the burrito baby. Clearly, we don’t agree. Let’s move on.” Slumping into her chair, more due to exhaustion than defeat, “The reading community lost their shit over the weekend. Did you catch that on Facebook?”
“I feel like a proud papa watching their sons and daughters throw a tantrum over shit that is none of their goddamn business.” Alec is an asshole, but at least he’s entertaining. Eyes glowing bright in fiendish delight, he rubs his palms together in anticipation.
“Let me guess… pseudonyms being called out as tricking readers?” That’s an oldie but goodie that crops up every few months when an author is exposed. “Residing in Misery Castle means I get pulled into the circus, having to deal with monkeys that aren’t my own, which means no time for ghosting on Facebook book groups.”
“Pity.” Alec cocks his head to the side, no trace of pity lacing his voice. Loveable asshole. “Oh, you’re gonna love this, Kat.” An anticipatory grin pulls at his thin lips, changing the overall look of his face.
Monica takes all of Alec’s fun away. “Jackasses are at it again. There’s a goddamn petition going around, where they will boycott the publishing industry if we don’t publish books with the author’s legal names on them. Some are going as far as to want to know the gender, age, and location of the author. Ya know, since only a man should write a man. An older woman should never write a younger woman, as if we weren’t that age at one time in our lives. Someone outside of the south should never attempt to write a novel about small-time life, as if everywhere else is a bustling city.”
“ASL?” Snorting, I just toss my hands up in the air. “Fucking idiots. What is this? Pre-Myspace days, where age, sex, and location were precursors to every interaction?”
“Your age is showing.” Chuckling darkly, Monica is losing her shit, finding our plight, and what has been the downfall of the publishing industry, entertaining as fuck.
“Readers see their favorite authors as celebrities.” Monica is the rational one.
Alec isn’t. “They’re pissed after being burnt dozens of times, with those asshats who made up personas to get more sales. Sob stories, crowdsourcing, and whatnot.”
“Maybe get a clue?” Chin shaking left and right, Monica’s chestnut hair swishes around her cheekbones. “We’re selling a product. The book matters, not some bullshit personal story the author puts out there. If they’re selling themselves, maybe we need to ask ourselves why? If they’re a popular bestseller, why would they need to beg for money? Readers have zero right to an author’s private information, as has been a publishing standard since the dawn of literature, but authors are yanking readers into that sacred space to make a quick buck, because they suck at storytelling.”
“Social media!” Alisha shouts from the hallway, evidentially leaving the comfort of her sofa for Vent Tuesdays. Probably Sean moved the sofa outside my open door, with a bunch of them crowded on the cushions. “Stop living in the stone age, people! Play the game or it plays you!”
“Good thing we have you, cousin.” Monica rolls her eyes. “Now shut up and at least pretend you’re not eavesdropping.”
“I will say…” Eyes glued to the door, checking to see if I can catch a glimpse of who is ghosting out in the hallway. “Those who have posted apocalyptic bullshit, they have zero longevity. They pretty much disappear after they make their quick buck, then shit goes back to normal. Whatever happened over the weekend, it will be replaced with another injustice in a few days, and the cycle will continue thereafter, because no one can leave well-enough alone.”
“Same with politics!” Alec shouts, still pissed Monica took the pleasure of dishing the gossip away from him. A heavy groan flows in from the hallway, sounding suspiciously like Sean.
“Had to go there, didn’t ya, bud?” Monica raises an eyebrow, waiting for a reply. Alec keeps his trap shut– smart man. “I told Alisha to stay out of it. I know. I know. She doesn’t listen to me. So I said I’d fire her if she so much as pressed a reaction on a single post featuring this insanity.”
“I’m behaving,” comes softly from the hallway. “Promise.”
“We all know you have half a dozen alias accounts, girlfriend… Behaving? Pfft!” flutters Monica’s lips in a sharp hiss. “Joseph Carmen got into a bit of a bind over the weekend. An author behaving badly fiasco.” Monica drops the bombshell, causing me to wince.
“That’s his final strike,” I spit in disgust, the author’s attitude always rubbing me the wrong way. “His contract was up for renegotiation after this last book. We won’t be signing him again.”
“Good,” Monica agrees, hair bobbing from a sharp nod. “I sicced PR on the mess.”
“Let’s move along onto the books we read over the weekend.” All this doom and gloom drags me down, when I’m already at my lowest. With a stabbing fingertip, I tap the cover page on all three printed manuscripts on my desk blotter.
“I think I’m going to have to pass books featuring the romance tropes onto you guys from now on. I was tempted to slit my own wrists after reading these bags of shit.”
“Are you having a problem with the gays again?” Alec taunts me, knowing it digs the knife in deeper. There’s a fine line between loveable asshole and cruel calculator, and Alec usually crosses that line on a daily basis. “Or is it romance in general this time? It’s supposed to be fantasy, girl. Obviously, we know no one acts or reacts like that in reality.”
“Hey, you’re one to talk.” Monica is quick to come to my defense. “You’re the one who goes on and on every week about how unrealistically gay men are portrayed in novels. With all that sappy purple prose and impossible sexual positions.”
“An asshole is not a vagina!” Alec bites off in a seething tone, getting worked up, voice getting louder and louder with each word spoken. “There’s no such thing as a goddamn boy pussy! My nipples are not called fucking tits! I don’t have tits! I don’t have a pussy! I’m gay, not a goddamn woman! I’m allowed to find that offensive.”
Working this closely with gay men, being married to gay men, I have learned that their misogyny rivals that of white, conservative males. Everything derogatory being pitched at gay men is based on degrading women. Instead of understanding how women were born oppressed by this bullshit, they lower us even more to prove they are better than us.
Ranting, Alec is offended because vaginas, tits, and pussies are insulting, because to have vaginas, tits, or pussies makes you a lower life form.
Frankly, I just hate men in general, no matter their orientation.
“Kat casually mentions she’s in the wrong headspace for romance, and you give her shit. Being dismissive and assholey, when we agreed with you about the boy pussy!” Monica lobs back. “So quit acting like we’re the numbskulls who wrote that insanity. Last year, we rejected the majority of the manuscripts you bitched about. Meanwhile, you championed all the ones Kat and I wanted to boot. It’s a good thing Kat has veto power, because most of those you wanted us to keep were received poorly in the literary world.”
Fingertips squeezing the bridge of my nose, eyes clenched shut tight, with a deep breath, I let it all go. “I shouldn’t be made to feel badly about myself when I read a novel. Gender, orientation, religion, or even political leanings, all it does is make half of the readership feel like shit.”
“Remember how you always say it’s the character, not the author?” Alec prompts, bringing up a major discussion we’ve had over the years. “You preach how a well-rounded character has flaws. A perfect character comes off as one-dimensional and preachy. If a guy is sexist because he has mommy issues, it doesn’t mean the author is sexist.”
“This is different.” Sighing, eyes still clenched tightly, I try to put the chaotic emotions into words. “I read as an escape. My job is to make that escape amazing for readers. Lately, most books are trying their damnedest to harm women. I cannot read MM Romance any longer.”
Leaning forward, a crimson nail taps on a title that is obviously LGBTQ in nature. “What’s in this book?” Monica gets a clue. “Why is it a trigger?”
“I cannot continue to publish books that denigrate women,” is said in a firm, authoritative voice. “No differently than when we flagged manuscripts that come off as racist or bigoted. Widespread misogyny shouldn’t be ignored because it only affects women. The majority of the time, these books vilify women, using them as nothing but a beard or an incubator, or they make them the zany, insufferable bestie. Out of a hundred MM Romance novels with villains, at least ninety-five of those villains are women.”
“Let us gays have something to call our own.” Alec doesn’t get it, blind to the blatant misogyny on every single page. The hate. As if lowering women somehow rises men, gay men in particular. “It’s a book about two boys who kiss boys– leave ‘em alone. Leave the pussy agenda out of it.”
“Pussy agenda?” Monica gasps, with a few more echoing her from the hallway, the loudest belonging to Sean.
“This book!” Enraged, I pound the side of my fist on the manuscript that needs to be set on fire on the author’s doorstep, like the bag of dog shit it is. Coming to my feet, I lose all restraint.
“This book brings the pussy into it, not the other way around. The romance is between an out-and-proud fitness trainer and an in-the-closet married man with three kids. They spend pages upon pages making fun of the housewife, blaming her for every issue they have as a couple. She is vilified, her sexuality torn to shreds. At its core, that is not dirty hot or romantic– it’s disgusting. These so-called heroes the readers are championing, they’re actually pieces of shit cheaters who get off on blaming women for their issues. The ending is where the woman is left alone, called fat and unwanted– insinuating that if she were hot and skinny, the gay husband wouldn’t have strayed, as if being gay is a choice –going as far as to joke about how she deserves to die alone, because how dare she be upset with her husband, calling her a bigot who doesn’t understand, where they get to act like weekend dads to complete their family.”
Monica and Alec gape up at me as I pour all my rage into a book that hit far too close to home.
“Edge. Will. NOT. Publish books like this anymore.” Breathing deeply, I can barely grit the words out. “The majority of our readers are middle-age women. It’s not just MM either. Contemporary romance is littered with older men and twenty-year-old naïve girls who are younger than their adult children, always making the women the age of the hero out to be desperate and slutty or dried-up and overbearing. The median age of heroines is in their early twenties, as if our lives are over once we hit thirty. Our only worth is whether or not someone wants us, while celebrating silver foxes. As a subliminal message, our readers are not the demographic shown in the novels as the romantic lead, as if we don’t deserve love but our cheating ex-husbands do. Our readers are those discarded in the novels. These are books written by women for women, filled with internalized misogyny. I cannot even count how many times I’ve read in a book where men give the best head because women hate the chore–”
“In lesbian fiction,” Monica cuts me off. “The men are always saying the women just haven’t been fucked by a real man. In MF novels, the men are always said to be the best at eating pussy. Exactly when does a woman get to be good at something?”
“Well, in an MM book, it makes sense for the man to be giving the head.” Alec tries to be the voice of reason, not getting it. Mansplaining. “I’ve never been blown by a woman, but I can attest that men give amazing head.”
“Yeah? So why do I read that in every genre?” Monica volleys back at Alec. “Kat’s right– MM readers say how badly they want to escape into books about two boys kissing each other, because that means we don’t have to feel insecure. Books with women are filled with judgment, shaming, and pressure, and we want to escape into a world where women aren’t in the equation. Yet the author and publisher are drawing us back into it, when we are the largest demographic reading it.”
“Just let us vent in our books, ladies.” Alec is known for lashing out when he is proven wrong, because he can’t let shit go, so what he says next doesn’t take me by surprise. “We don’t want your pussy, doesn’t mean no one does.”
“You want a book to call your own?!” is shouted at Alec. Licks of fiery red covering my vision, I am about to fall over the edge of the abyss. “We women can’t even claim ownership of FF novels, without internalized misogyny seeping in. In this book.” Finger going numb, I stab the goddamn thing. “The wife is blamed for being fat and ugly, so she deserves to be cheated on, to be gaslit, to be abused and neglected, as if she was the one who lied about wanting her husband and loving him. As if she was the one who asked him to marry her, knowing it was all fake. A lie. All wrapped up in a pretty bow of gay romance. If he’s gay, why is he blaming his wife for him not wanting her because she’s fat, ugly, used up, and old? Do. You. Get. It. Now?!”
“I. LIVE. THIS!!!!!” Bellows out of my throat, unable to contain the rage anymore. Face stinging red, veins throbbing in my forehead, every muscle coils in my body. Shame hits me full force. Instantly I feel horrific for using Alec and Monica as a convenient target.
Slumping back into my seat, tears of rage, shame, and hopelessness spill from my eyes. “I’m sorry. So goddamn sorry. I live this– I don’t want to read it, having it thrown back into my face. I’m not the only wife on the planet who has lived this. This isn’t fantasy for us. This isn’t our fault. I’m in a Facebook group with over half a million women who were unwittingly used as beards, all our stories so similar. We shouldn’t be shamed on the pages of a novel by a writer using us as a source of entertainment.”
“Kat, I–” Looking horrified, expression stark, Alec is at a loss for words. “The wife holds no blame. Any man who uses a woman to hide in the closet is a piece of shit. He’s a user and an abuser. Not saying he doesn’t deserve to find love, but he shouldn’t at the expense of his wife’s self-worth. He’s incapable of wanting her, because he’s gay, not because she’s undesirable.”
Uncontrollable shaking starts at my toes and moves in jarring waves up my body, until my teeth are chattering. Breath coming in harsh pants, the sensation of drawing in air from a straw has panic roiling in my veins.
“You say you want books where you can vent about women?” Staring down at the manuscript, tears splatter to dampen my blouse. “These same books are read primarily by women. Should the cheating husband get to exploit our stories after using us as a beard, giving the same-sex couple a happily ever after, featuring our stolen children? Do they deserve a place to vent, a place to not be held accountable for their heinous behavior? Or should the story be told from the used and abused?”
Monica is silent, watching on with glistening eyes. While Alec gets a clue and realizes it was a hypothetical question.
“As editors, that’s the question. Who owns the right to tell this story, and who is the true villain of the tale? As a publisher, and one of half a million beards, each bringing unique talents, we’ve found less than a dozen books from our point-of-view, yet thousands upon thousands where the husband is made to look like he’s in the right, as if the wife isn’t his victim. So take your books and keep them, because I won’t read them, nor will Edge publish anything so deeply ingrained with misogyny. If you want to claim a book featuring two boys kissing each other, either leave the abused wife out of it, because that’s her goddamn story to tell, or handle it with compassion, with the character asking for forgiveness and seeking self-awareness after destroying another for his own self-serving needs.”
Monica fetches the manuscript off my blotter, holding it far away from her body with only a few fingertips, as if it’s contagious. “Where’s your lighter, my fellow pothead?” is said with nothing but amused affection. “I know you have one on your person. Let’s burn this cocksucker in your bathroom sink.”
“To be the devil’s advocate…” Alec trails off, not appreciating the cocksucker usage. “We’re all cocksuckers here, just saying. But if you burn the book, the sprinklers will be activated.”
“Shredder then.” Monica hops up, striding around my desk. “C’mon, bitch. Tear the title page off this pile of shit, and let’s get to shredding.”
Somewhere in the middle of me rage-shredding a manuscript by an author whose unsigned contract is resting on my desk, Sean tugged Alec from the room, firmly shutting my office door for the first time in years.
I could give a fuck less as Monica and I act like less than editors. We bond, not as besties, not as sisters, but as women.
As the red wash fades, I find myself sobbing against Monica’s newly acquired assets, face pressed against her blouse, leaving tear stains on the fickle fabric. “Usual time, usual place, one last test.”
“No,” is muttered in abject horror, body shuddering in my best friend’s arms. “I cannot live through doing it again.”
“Not a final test for them, Kat– a final test for you. If they fail, which we both know they will, it will be the closure you need.” Fingers dig into my shoulders, pulling me upright with a harsh yank. “Leave them!”
“I don’t have an alternative– I won’t fade away like the woman in that book, because you know Cort is not letting me take our children with me. Everywhere I go, I’ll be seen as a horrible person, with an empty soul because I abandoned my children.”
“As if they don’t make you feel that way right now?” Blunt, the bitter truth falls from Monica’s lips, because she doesn’t believe in pretty lies. “You aren’t that woman in the book. You need to empower those ladies you met online while you’re at it.”
“How?” comes as a pitiful whine of a child who still needs the support of her parents and isn’t getting it, to the point I fucking hate myself. “They’ll call me a bitch and a gold-digging cunt. They’ll blame me, as always. Women never win, when will we learn that sick truth?”
“Live the best version of yourself.” Monica holds me at arm’s length, eyes connecting us in a way I never allow myself with many. Vulnerability takes trust, and I give Monica my trust. “Don’t give two fucks about what anyone thinks about you. The best revenge is to be happy. Be happy, that’s how you win. Be happy, Katya Waters– no one deserves it more than you do.”