Saturday, June 30, 2012

MC 4

“So, you didn’t tell him who you were, but he figured it out anyway? How?”


Jake asked the question anxiously. He and Margaret were sitting at a picnic table outside their office building, eating lunch. Earlier that morning Margaret had stormed into the station irked and huffy, her mind preoccupied with the article about garden spiders that she’d transcribed and turned in that morning. Dejectedly, she'd dropped it into the basket in front of Vince’s door, semi-disgusted at the trajectory that her career was currently on. And then, the repressed memories of Saturday night had came rushing back, putting her in an even more worse mood. By lunch Margaret had progressed from crotchety to downright sullen. The last thing she wanted to do was provide Jake with the details she’d promised him a few days ago.


“I guess he remembered my name or my voice or something from that day last week when he hung up on me.” She poked at her pimento cheese sandwich. “I’m still pissed about that.”


“Yeah, well, you’re always pissed about something,” Jake quipped. Margaret flicked a bit of cheese at him. “Tell me, did he kick you out once he made the connection or did he wait until after dessert?”


“No, he invited me for drinks tomorrow night actually. What do you think, Matthews?”


Jake held his hands up in surrender.


Margaret sighed despondently as she recounted the events. Everything had been going so well. Dinner had been delicious and had gone by without a hitch. Conversation had flowed easily and at one point Margaret had forgotten that she was supposed to be writing an article about the ex-lieutenant across from her. Liz had even given her a thumbs up at one point in the night. So, she’d let her guard down. And that was when it had all come crashing down. Literally. When he’d nonchalantly mentioned the news station and what he thought her prerogative was, she’d dropped and broken his salad bowl.


Jake burst into laughter at her story. “So the night didn’t end in a kiss and passionate fireworks, then?”  


Margaret shook her head. She wished.


“And I’m guessing a second date isn’t in your future, huh?” He sounded relieved.


Margaret replied sourly. “A promotion probably isn’t in my future either.” She narrowed her eyes. “Why do you care how it ended anyways?”


Her co-worker flushed and mumbled something that she couldn’t make out. Margaret chuckled; Matthews was so easily flustered it was almost cute.


“Anyways, back to the matter at hand. You know...I’m thinking...maybe...it’s just…” She let her words trail off. It’s just what? It’s just that she had been paralyzed by surprise? It’s just that when she’d seen Finn English on the other side of the threshold she’d felt like she’d won the lottery? It’s just that for a brief moment she thought it might not be a bad idea to stay for dinner, her job be damned?


It’s just that it wasn’t every day she ended up at a handsome amputee’s house on a date?


Yeah, she couldn’t say that to Jake. He’d think she was nuts. Hell, maybe she was nuts, practically getting on off just from standing in a disabled man’s kitchen, watching how he maneuvered and moved, imagining touching his the places where his limbs ended, fantasizing about him running his hand and stump over her body...


Jake cleared his throat, pulling her mind out of the gutter. “...It’s just, um, I’m thinking maybe I should have just left and bowed out before dinner.”


“Margaret,” she instantly knew she was in for a pep talk from his tone of voice. “Did you bow out when Aggie Maynard didn’t want to talk to you about ant farms?”


“No but maybe I should've just--”


“And did you bow out when Vince assigned you to cover that rat infestation case?”


“No.”  


“No ma’am, you didn’t! And did you bow out when he made you investigate and transcribe the bit about that septic tank company’s scandal a few--”


“Okaayy, that’s enough. It started off encouraging; now it’s just pathetic.” Margaret gulped down the last bite of her sandwich. Jake, bless him, had no idea that she’d stayed Friday night for her own satisfaction rather than for career advancement. “But I appreciate the effort.”


Jake nodded. “Just doing my job.”


They started to pack up. As they started to walk back towards their building, Jake suddenly starting grinning slyly. “You know, speaking of that septic tank one, it was a crying shame that that headline got censored. ‘The Shit Has Hit the Fan’ was one of your finer moments.”


Margaret shook her head sadly, but felt a smile creeping onto her face too. That debacle had happened the day after Jake had first been hired at the paper. She couldn’t even remember the content of the article now--other than that it was literally, all about shit--but she remembered how her eager and ambitious new co-worker (who, quite frankly annoyed her a little with his buoyant enthusiasm) had thought her byline was the best thing since sliced bread. He’d encouraged her, reassured her just as she was starting to doubt herself and her career, and told her enthusiastically that he could see her clever heading as a headline on the news that night,


In retrospect, it seems obvious that listening to the rookie might not have been the best idea. But, Jake had such a charismatic air about him, even if he hid it under his timidity and didn’t let anyone at the station besides Margaret see it. She remembered how he’d helped her come up with a new headline and tried to cheer her up with a stupid joke after Vince had quickly (and unsurprisingly) vetoed it. Since that day Jake had latched onto Margaret like a leech and Margaret had taken him under her wing. Begrudgingly so at first, though she had to admit, the kid was starting to grow on her.  


“Yeah,” she smirked. “You just supported that byline and set me up for failure so you could get your own foot in the door and steal my thunder, Matthews.”


The tops of his ears turned red; lately, Margaret had noticed he didn’t take her flattery or compliments very well. “It was one of your finer moments,” he said defensively.


She tended to think of it as one of her worst moments, but hey, to each his own. “Maybe,” she shrugged. “But explaining to Vince how I might have ruined his fluffy human interest story won’t be.”


She and Jake made their way into the building and down the windy halls to right outside their boss’ office. The block lettering on the frosted glass door was nearly as foreboding as the person behind it. “Christ, I’m really not in the mood to explain to Vince how I fucked this up.”


Jake nodded understandingly. Margaret elbowed him playfully in the side. “I’m going to need some cheering up after this, Matthews.”


“Oh, if you make it out with your job still in tact I’ll take you to lunch on Saturday.” The words started off confident but ended in a mumbly rush.


Margaret looked at the door skeptically. “Yeah, I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high.” Jake laughed, a nervous sound that replicated exactly what she felt as she opened the door and headed inside.


***


“...there is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened...”


Finn read that last line and sat down his old worn copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and leaned back in his Eno. He liked technology just as much as the next person, but when it came to books he didn’t ever plan on jumping on the eBook bandwagon. It might have been a little tricky, having to figure out just how to hold the book with his thumb and pinky in front of him, using those fingers to flip the pages and using his three middle fingers to brace the spine--and it was still a little cumbersome--but worth it. There was just something about reading a real book, you know?


And nothing--absolutely nothing--could beat the way he was spending the first day of his spring break: hammocking in Oak Mountain State Park, about an hour south of Montgomery. He’d gotten here around 10:00 a.m. and started setting up his hammock. Most people would think that  hammocking wasn't something that could be pulled off with one arm--his mother was still a little skeptical--but it wasn’t that different. Add in some leader ropes around the loop end of the hammock, an extra ten minutes, and some patience and in the end, like most anything, it could be done.


When he’d loaded up the Jeep that morning he’d brought a small cooler loaded with ice and a fishing pole, fully intending to catch his supper. Nothing like a good old Sauger filet. But now that he was here nestled in the hammock, reading, and enjoying the warm sun on his face, he honestly didn’t want to move. He wanted to just stay there the rest of the week, in the piece and quiet, away from everything.


Including Margaret Shields.


He was pretty sure that no one had figured the Universe out yet, but according to Hitchhiker’s, something cosmically major had to have happened because suddenly in his world, suddenly, bizarre and inexplicable things had started happening.


The first was that reporter lady calling him on Friday. That was strange and random, but mostly just annoying. He really hated reporters. The next was that reporter lady turning out to be Margaret, a discovery that was much to his chagrin. She’d been alright. And sort of pretty. And a redhead. And kind of funny. And a little flirtatious. And--


--And, he better stop.


Finn chuckled at himself, the noise breaking the serene silence of the woods. Margaret had been cluttering up his mind since Saturday night -- this was spring break, supposedly a week of not worrying about relaxing and decompressing--yet, here he was, coiled up like a spring because even after two days of thinking about it, he couldn’t decide how he should feel about her.


Obviously, her career choice meant he couldn’t like her simply based on principle. But, he figured he could probably end up liking what he saw of her personality on Saturday. She seemed...spunky. Also, a little sneaky. He figured she was probably fun-loving too. She would’ve had to been to live with Liz for four years. His cooking seemed to impress her, but it did most of the girls his sister-in-law dragged in. Whoever said that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach obviously hadn’t met a Southern woman; they knew good food when they tasted it too.


And then there was the way that he actually felt bad as she was leaving. Not only because the spunk in her eyes had been replaced by a despondent look, but because as she left, he had actually felt a little letdown. Letdown that she was a reporter, letdown that as she was leaving she didn’t say anything other than that she was sorry about his china, and mostly letdown that she’d pretty much just tucked tail and ran. He didn’t know Margaret that well but from what he did know of her, he’d expected a little bit more of a fight. Then, she tried to call him the next day, but he’d seen that as sort of a cowardly way to approach the problem, so he’d denied her. Since then (and it’d been 28 hours) he hadn’t heard anything.


Ugh. What was wrong with him? He tossed the book towards the other end of the hammock and rolled over onto his stomach, not exactly an easy feat for someone missing half their limbs and swimming in a blanket of woven fabric. Shutting his eyes, he tried to will Margaret Shields out of his mind. He thought instead of what he’d do the rest of the week (laundry, grade papers, go running) and what he was going to end up having for supper that night (Mama Rosa frozen pizza).

Margaret Shields had seemed alright on Saturday night, aside from the obvious things. But she was gone now. And it needed to stay that way. Right? That's what he wanted. After all, she'd just been so personable because she was trying to get to him for her story. Right? 

Right, Finn decided and tried to push her to the back recesses of his mind, focusing instead on his breathing and the sounds of the park and tried to will himself to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. But it wasn't happening, he felt as frustrated that he couldn't get her off his mind as Zaphod had felt as he tried to convince Ford Prefect that they really were landing on Margaretha in chapter fifteen.



***


A long time ago, when she first started working at the paper and had her first confrontation with Vince, Margaret had decided that it was best to just let him vent and yell. Better out than in, was what her mom always said about a person's emotions.


So that's why as Vince Masters turned a distinct shade of purple and gestured at her like an angry Italian, she just sat there and let it happen.


Finally, after about two minutes, he sat down in a sweaty huff. "Well," she asked, crossing one leg over the other, "are you done?"


Her boss glared at her from behind his desk.


"I'm a reporter, Vince, I'm not a private investigator. Nor am I psychic. I didn't realize when I called him on Friday and he hung up on me for being a nosy journalist that the next day I'd be eating grilled chicken at his apartment in Carrington Park."


Vince didn't say anything so she took that as her cue to continue. "You know, we actually were having a really lovely evening until he asked me what exactly it was I planned on reporting about in my--”


"--Margaret, you've got to be kidding me." Vince threw his hands up in exasperation. “You knew he already was hesitant to talk, yet you stayed for dinner anyways?”


She averted her eyes.


Her boss groaned. “English is going to be declining to comment or talk to us for the next five years.”


Vince started shuffling through papers on his desk. Margaret waited. He held a piece of paper out towards her. "I want it done soon."


She took the paper out of his hand and looked at it. A grand opening of a new mall this weekend. "Great," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Her chance of becoming an anchor in the next five years just went from great to disparagingly dismal. "Just the sort of thing I love going to and writing scripts about so the bimbos behind the desk can tell all of Greater Montgomery about it."


“Margaret,” Vince warned.


She should’ve held back, but it was starting off to be a bad week and, Margaret had never been good about holding her tongue. "We're in Montgomery, Alabama, Vince. And we work at a local news station, reporting about cats in trees and bad traffic. We're not in the Ukraine; and, this isn’t the Civil Rights Era South. Does anyone care about what’s going on here? No! Why is this story such a big deal? No one cares about this article except middle aged housewives -- you said so yourself!"


Vince didn't so much as glance at her as he replied to her in a cool tone. "Margaret, you're right. This is a dinky town with small stories. You're not a correspondent for the AP and you don’t get to report on what you want; you work for me, and I want that,” he pointed at the board in his office which held brief snippets of all the stories for coming weeks; Finn’s name was second from the top, “reported on."


“This is bullshit.” Margaret muttered under her breath. As soon as the words left her mouth she knew that they shouldn’t have.


Vince froze. Slowly, he turned to face her. “Let’s remember, Margaret, three years ago you were just a little girl from bumfuck Alabama and greener than Matthews out there. But you had a degree from Auburn and wanted to be the next Diane Sawyer. That was bullshit. But I hired you anyways--”


“--yeah, because Alan Simmons had just quit.”


“--Nevertheless, I hired you. You came up with some good stories, you wrote some good scripts, and now you want back from behind the camera and in front of it instead."


Margaret bit her lip, sensing that her boss was far from done. She’d seen him like this only one other time in three years and that was when she’d refused to come in because she had the flu and a 102 fever.


“And that’s only to be expected with any younger broadcast journalist, and it’s fine. Because I like you. And I thought you might be ready for a step up. So, I gave you this chance. I thought ‘Margaret’s made me laugh and cry about azaleas during the same five minute segment, this follow-up story will be a piece of cake for her’. But you know what?”


Vince paused, giving her a chance to comment. When she didn’t, he went on.


“I’m realizing now that that was a mistake. You’re right, we’re in Montgomery, Alabama and this isn’t news that anyone really cares about. Margaret, you don’t get this story covered and I guarantee you’ll never be Diane Sawyer,” he gave her a scornful look and laughed, a harsh sound. “You’ll just end up right back in Wedowee, a sad relic of who you used to be and living in the trailer you grew up in.”


Margaret sucked in her breath sharply. His words stung but she tried not to let him see. Damn her for getting drunk at the station’s Fourth of July BBQ last year and telling her boss her biggest fears. She rolled her eyes and tried to give him a wry smile, but knew he probably saw through the ruse. “It’s an old run-down familial homestead,” she corrected in a low voice. “Vince, I think you missed your calling. Forget journalism, you should have an actor. You're being a little bit dramatic.”


He just raised his eyebrows in a blasé response. Then shrugged and turned back to his computer. "Get this done, Margaret.”


She nodded and turned to leave, all the fight suddenly gone out of her. “Vince? Can I ask a question?”


Vince gave the briefest of nods, indicating she should go on. That, at least, was a good sign. The worst of his tirade was over.


"Why do you care so much about this follow-up anyways?"


Her boss actually smiled as he met her eyes. "Oh, well I just genuinely want to know how the guy's been doing the last couple of years." The smile vanished. “Margaret, our ratings are down. And nothing gets the city tuned in to channel six like a human interest, feel good story about a hometown hero.”


Margaret nodded and turned to leave. “And,” her boss added as she turned to leave. “Let’s not forget I’m giving you the chance to be the one cover the story that is going to save the station.”


Or the chance to be the one to drag it down and drown it. She shut the door hard as she left, not sure whether she should feel better or worse. More, than ever before she was convinced that Vince Masters truly lived just to make his employees lives miserable. She stomped down the hall, back to her hole of an office in the back corner, in a huff. On the way she spotted Jake being berated for a small mistake by a man named Michael, another person at the station that he fact checked for. He looked every bit as miserable and confused as she felt. Margaret overheard Vince’s named mentioned in a threatening way and winced. Well, misery did love company. Deciding that, Margaret interjected as she passed the pair, “Make it a working lunch on Saturday and you’re on, Matthews!”







6 comments:

  1. Good chapter.
    I love your dialogue.
    Can't wait for sparks to fly.
    Thanks for starting up again.
    Don't stop!

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  2. Oooh . . . the possibilities!I love where you are taking this and cannot wait to see what you next have in store for us.

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  3. I really like this story. Please keep the updates coming!

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  4. No comments about ugly girls, thanks. Maybe if she gave him some of the stuff she's written? Explain it to her friend?
    Tc

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  5. Love your story! Please, write more soon!!!

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  6. Oh Finn you should let her have her chance... Suddenly I see a different angle to the possible story she's suppose to write. Lots of good stuff in this chapter. Thanks for writing

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