I wake up on a random Friday to a blaring sound on what seems, to me at least, to be like all of the days that have come before. I randomly swat at my phone until it stops assaulting my ears. I sleepily open one eye to glance at the time, realize I've overslept and jump out of bed in a panic while simultaneously attempting to pull on my jeans. There's no time to worry about my appearance, so I'm making a messy bun with my curly chestnut hair, that rarely behaves how I want it to anyhow, as I hurry to leave. I just about make it to work at 9:30on the dot for my 9AM shift. It's a crazy day because there is some sort of financial conference in town, and we are particularly busy.
Working at Starbucks is not where I pictured myself after graduating from Yale. I mean, sure, it's nice to be able to grab a cup of semi-decent coffee at work, but I had always thought I was lucky when I was younger; Yale was my dream school, I interned at the New Yorker over summer break, my professor nominated me for model UN, and being on the school paper was one of my favorite parts of university. Now I think I peaked in college and I'm actually destined for homelessness. Okay, not exactly homelessness but the next worst thing, which is heading back to Starry Lakes, my tiny Massachusetts hometown, moving back in with my parents and taking up my old job at Bar Gelato. Trust me, it is worse than working at a Starbucks in the city.
After serving my six hours, I'm on my way back to my apartment via the scenic route through Greenwich, walking along the narrow paved streets lined with dilapidated brick buildings, their original elegant awnings and vintage doors still intact, hip restaurant patios, eclectic shops that sell everything you never knew you needed, and bags upon bags of trash, when my phone rings.
"Hello." I answer absent-mindedly, sleep deprived and caffed up. A bad combination because my mind is all over the place, resting nowhere effectively.
"Olivia Thorpland?" comes a voice down the line. The formality of the odd greeting strikes me.
"This is she." I reply.
"This is Connor Bradley with Le Salon magazine." I stop in the middle of the street and immediately get run into by a lovely gentleman who curses at me as he continues on his way.
"Sorry, who?" I ask stupidly, disbelieving.
"Connor Bradley with Le Salon." he repeats more slowly.
"Yes, how may I help you?" I inquire, not knowing what else to say.
He laughs, not unkindly. "Actually, I think it's I who may be able to help you."
I rush home to prepare for my interview, which essentially means I attempt to impersonate a human and grab my portfolio. When I woke up this morning, my plan was to go to my barista gig and have that be the extent of my social interactions for the day. I've been applying for job severy day since I graduated, but I'd lost hope that anything would come of it. It was almost just a habit now, like taking a chance at the lottery. I would send an application off into the void that is the internet, never expecting to hear back. Unless I'm still asleep. I mean, Le Salon is the holy grail of culture magazines. Pinch. Ouch! Definitely awake.
I'm undressing as I walk through the living room towards my bedroom, discarding articles of clothing on the hardwood floor as I go. I grab my one black suit from the dry cleaning bag that's been living in my closet for over a month. It's a bit linty, but there's not much I can do about that now. I try to smooth it down with a hair straightener and clean it with tape. I wash my face and slap on some make-up, adding some color to make my pale skin look not of the undead. The only part of my face that isn't ghost-like are my hazel eyes, but the bags they are carrying are not doing much to highlight them today, and I have to settle for the barely passable job I manage with several layers of product. I hurry back down the stairs and around the corner to a cross street, finally hailing a cab to make the trip to my interview.
As the car pulls up to the Le Salon building in Rockefeller Center, I can't help but feel a thrill of excitement. I've always found this four block radius magical. This is the New York you dream of when you have no idea what the city is really like; shiny, polished corporate buildings waiting to make your career dreams come true, next door to expensive shops where you will undoubtedly build the flawless wardrobe you'll wear to your dream career, all overlooking elegant lunch venues where you'll inevitably bump into the future love of your life in a meet-cute to rival The Notebook. This part of town seems full of possibilities, art and culture, as well as the celebrities who sell us these empty, baseless dreams. It's when you round the corner the illusion is broken by budget pizza places, permanent construction and knock-off designer goods stalls, which you can actually afford but probably shouldn't visit. It's quintessentially New York; I both love and hate it.
I enter the buzzing lobby with its shiny, glittery white marble. It's exactly as you would expect the premiere publishing house in the country to be; hotel meets glam. There is a very low beat pulsating through the whole place, and I'm not sure what the intent of it is except to make the vibe feel slightly cooler than it actually is. I head upstairs in a glass elevator. I can't believe I'm here. I've long admired Lillian Dubrow, Le Salon's Editor-in-Chief. She's a legend in culture and publishing, always front row at fashion week, photographed at any major food and wine festival; she knows everyone worth knowing. I wonder if I'll ever get to meet her. I exit on the 34 floor walking into a dizzying black and white entryway. The checkered floor underfoot, complemented by black chandeliers overhead. Textured walls are lined with gold framed covers and pictures of celebrities reading the rag. Art deco statement furniture in shades of purple and black sits artfully throughout. The place has a sophisticated, borderline gothic vibe.
I approach the receptionist and ask importantly for, "Connor Bradley, please. I'm here to interview for the Editorial Assistant position."
She doesn't speak but points to her headset and signals for me to wait with one finger. She types for a while before indicating towards a set of purple velvet couches with diamante accents. As silently instructed, I take a seat at the edge next to a giant cream vase that houses humongous fake purple and black flowers. At least I think they're fake. That shade of purple can't be naturally occurring. I idly flip through one of the magazines laying around on the black coffee table in an attempt to calm my nerves. The receptionist, finally free from the phone, comes over and offers me a drink with a very simple, "Beverage?" "No, thank you so much." I politely decline, then wish I had asked for water as I feel my mouth go dry. She leaves me to it after that, and I make a mental note, inspired to communicate with fewer words in order to be cooler and more employed.
Thirty minutes later, I'm giving up. I don't expect to be seeing anyone today and am slumped all the way down in the chair with my jacket off, super professionally. Suddenly and without warning, a ridiculously handsome man emerges from a set of glass doors, like he just stepped out of the pages of the very magazine where he works. I first see the naturally textured dark brown hair with flecks of auburn before the tall, broad-shouldered figure fully emerges. His perfect cheekbones and defined jawline, accented by scruffy stubble, serve to raise the intimidation factor for this meeting. He has the toned physique of someone whose clothes were specifically designed for them, and he wears his black slacks, white shirt, black vest, and deep dark purple bow tie spectacularly. Wow, they take the color scheme seriously here. I'm glad I opted for a plain white blouse under my black skirt and jacket combo, though even in my designer duds, I feel decidedly drab next to this dapper gentleman.
"Olivia." he seemingly tells me, holding out one hand. His chiseled face is sternly serious. I straighten and extend mine.
"I go by Gigi." The handsome features twist into an expression of disdain. "It's short for Grace," I helpfully inform him. "My middle name."
"Right this way, Olivia." he says, and not knowing what else to do, I silently follow him.
We walk down an airy white hallway and, after turning left twice, we hit a big solid white door with the words Lillian Dubrow printed in black type face. I gulp.
"What? Did you have a question?" snaps Connor. It's clear that whatever is behind this entrance spooks even him.
"No, I just didn't expect to be meeting Li-, I mean, Ms. Dubrowsosoon."
"She interviews everyone personally." He rings a doorbell.
A voice comes through the door, "Yes?"
"Lillian, I have Olivia Thorpland here to see you."
"Olivia? Ah, yes, come in." The door swings open as if by magic. I stop awestruck. The entire room is white, from the walls to the furniture. At first glance, it seems like the volumes of literature housed within are all floating in midair, but upon closer inspection I see they are carefully placed on thin transparent glass shelves. Her chair is, of course, white as are her tech accessories. The singular contrast of color is her purple coffee mug, presumably so she can find the damn thing. It really is an OCD nerd's dream office. And sitting regally behind this perfectly curated space is the legend herself Lillian Dubrow, a slender woman in her late 40s with a long jet black high ponytail, thick black frames that cover a third of her face and a mixture of tanned skin that's been in the sun for as many years as she has been alive, magically preserved by modern medicine and the beauty industry. Lillian clearly knows her way around this world. Dressed in a flowery designer summer frock, her intimidating presence fills the room. I stand awkwardly between the door and her desk, unsure of what to do.
"Right, if there's nothing else, I'll see you later." Connor's voice breaks my reverie.
"Thank you, Connor. Well, have a seat, Olivia," says Lillian impatiently. "You're making me uneasy."
"It's good to meet you." I say nervously, offering my only very slightly shaking hand.
She ignores my statement and my outstretched appendage.
"Now, you're here for the Cultures Editor position, I see. And you are interested in covering what aspects of culture exactly?" She peers down her ultra-chic glasses at me.
"Um, there must be a mistake. I'm not sure that is the position I applied for." I hesitate. I knew it. There was a mix up. I can't be an editor; I applied for an editorial assistant position. Lillian Dubrow pauses and rests her steely gaze on me for a moment.
"We don't make mistakes dear. Now, what is it you wanted to write about?"
"I would like to write about food, fashion and pop culture trends." I swallow.
"Mmm, you are a deep one. Right." She pauses to examine me up and down. "I suppose we'll make it work. See you Monday."
"Monday? That's it?" I say idiotically.
"Was there anything else?" she asks me. I pause and can't think of what I might say.
"No. I mean, yes. I mean, thank you." I manage.
"There is no need to thank me, dear. We land where we are meant to." And with that, Connor is somehow by my side, ushering me back into the surreal world of the Le Salon offices that is to be my new creative home.
Connor leads me to a blank room and sits me down. He starts rattling off a list of forms I need to complete and throws down a huge packet.
"Bring these with you on Monday." he instructs.
"Monday?" I ask again. "She didn't even ask me a single question."
"Why would she?" Connor wants to know.
"Why wouldn't she?" I retort.
"Lillian pre-vets all candidates. She doesn't like to waste time, and you came with a recommendation."
"Oh." is all I manage. I don't think to ask who would recommend me for such a high profile position until much later.
I keep it cool all the way home, making my way in a fog of nervous disbelief, until it finally starts to sink in. I can barely contain myself as I catch my first glimpse of the pink bricked sides of our high-rise apartment building, towering three stories over both of its neighbors. I make my way, a little more hastily than usual, down the flight of black wrought iron steps and through the faded mint green front door. I practically sprint up the five flights of creaky wooden stairs and through the brown, non-descript gateway into our apartment. I'm glad Maddy, my best friend and roommate, is home because I can't keep the bubbling excitement to myself any longer. Somehow, I'm nonchalant when I share the news, like it's no big deal.
"So, I got a job today."
"What's the job? Where?"
"Oh, writing for a small magazine. Not sure if you've heard of it, Le Salon?" I tell her, my face breaking into a grin. Maddy loses it and starts screaming and jumping, excitedly hugging me, and it's then that I finally allow myself to let the delight spill over as we giddily dance in a circle.
Maddy is, of course, happy for my success, but I think she is more thrilled that I can now stay in the city because I had been debating moving back home ever since I finished school, which was the beginning of my lack of adequate employment and downward spiral into poverty.
Maddy has been working as an event planner for her father's company CapelloIndustries, a multinational consumer goods company, since the fall after graduation, and she is loving it. It is, after all, perfectly suited to her skill set, planning and attending parties. She had been kind enough to charge me minimal rent in the apartment her father had given to her as a graduation present, and only because I insisted I would pay. But even with the break in living expenses, city-life is not kind to the penniless.
That night we hit the town to celebrate my new job and our renewed roommate status. We take the ferry to Brooklyn, which Mads always thinks is touristy, but I don't care. I tell her it's because I hate the subway, which I do, but it's not like I never take underground transportation. I just find water travel to be incredibly romantic, and it really does give you the best view of the Brooklyn Bridge, all lit up with hope and purpose. Even though it takes longer, I don't mind. It's the one place in New York that makes me feel hopeful too, like all of the promises the world makes to you about this city before you move here have a chance of coming true.
We exit on the docks leading us back to the reality that is the metropolis, and the narrow, paved streets of Brooklyn. The area is a little rundown, and we pass graffiti canvases, alternately run down brick and boarded up structures. Luckily Williamsburg knows what a few dollar store fairy lights can do for evening ambiance, and we make the short walkalongside the early evening crowds to meet Leah and Dan at The Woods, a bar that's both hipster and dive-y at the same time and resides in the more gentrified part of town. We head to the back of the establishment and through to the outdoor section, a fenced in area that continues the fairy light tradition of its city of residence. We're lucky to grab seats on picnic benches under the covered half of the open space and enjoy $2 beers and tacos from the food truck the bar hosts while catching up on the daily adventures of our college friends.
I must be getting old because the next morning I'm dying. I wake up and immediately regret it. I pull my faded pink-striped comforter over my head and try to block out the morning light, that my poor choice of curtains is doing a horrible job of shielding me from, illuminating every inch of my tiny bedroom. I lie there motionless, debating whether or not to move, when it hits me. What on earth am I going to wear to my first day of work? Though my wardrobe is full of black and white, it's not quite up to the Le Salon standard. I reluctantly emerge from under the covers, drag myself into a standing position and immediately rue the decision. I feel like I'm going to hurl but manage to refrain. I tug on sweat pants, grab sunglasses and a baseball hat and prepare to head in search of coffee and hangover food, but when I manage to half crawl to the kitchen, Maddy already has the coffee pot brewing and has gotten us bacon, egg and cheese bagels from the corner deli we love, aptly named Deli. Even on this painful morning, she is somehow glowing with her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. I sink down onto one of our barstools in front of the kitchen pass through to join her, putting my head down. Maddy pours me a cup of coffee and pats my head.
"Poor Gigi." she says. She places the coffee in front of me and unwraps my bagel for me.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Secret Lives of Royals"
Copyright © 2018 Shalini Dua.
Excerpted by permission of Shalini Dua.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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