I wasn't usually invited to the toasts. And technically, I wasn't invited to this one, but because I was pulled into the last second effort to put it together, at the very least I'd get to mill about in the group of people raising glasses, as opposed to the usual: being huddled over in my cube, my work-a-day motions provided with the soundtrack of everyone else in the office having a good time.
"Anya, what are you still doing here?"
The big boss — Francine — was looking at me like I had failed to rush to the vet a deathly sick puppy that was lying at my feet.
"I was just about to leave, Francine."
"You do know how important this is, right?"
As a matter of fact, I did know. Because literally one minute earlier, when she was tasking me with picking up the champagne for the toast, had told me just that, in tones usually reserved for someone who was being given the responsibility of delivering a package that contains the formula for an antidote to the virus that is in the process of wiping out the entire human race.
I had spent the first 30 seconds excited that I would get to be a part of the toast — so excited that you would have thought that I was going to be personally thanked. Not going to happen. Still, it felt like a little bit of publishing history was happening, and I was going to be there to witness it — maybe even showing up in some photographs that many years from now, would end up in the biography about my long and storied career as a writer AND publisher who transformed the literary landscape. Or, more realistically, maybe they'd just end up on the publishing house's Instagram page, and I could share the photo so all my friends would see me making it big in the big city. Not now, of course — I didn't want to social expose myself and ruin everything in the real right now (more on that later), but at some point in the future, when I'll probably need to show photographic evidence to case close on everyone that I really did spend six whole weeks of the summer in New York City working at a publishing house.
The inside-my-own head revelry of both the toast and the future brag did not last long, however, because it hit me like a seven layer chocolate cake in the face — while I'm wearing my favorite summery cocktail dress, no less — that I had no way to actually purchase the champagne.
This was double-drag bad — like, not only is the party off, but the house where the party was supposed to be is engulfed in flames. For one thing, Francine expected that champagne to be ice cold and ready to pop in far less time than it was going to take me to get to and from the liquor store that is located just around the corner from the office.
But the bigger issue is that I had no way to actually buy the champagne for the very simple reason that I am not 21 years old, and I don't have a fake ID.
Yes, it sucks. It sucks to not be able to buy alcohol. Old enough to vote, but not be able to go to bars. Or get into shows, or clubs. But that's nothing compared to the suckage that is about to swallow up my situation into a deeper and much darker hole. And the situation is this: I am 18 years old and I just graduated from high school, but nobody here knows this. They think I am 21 and about to start my senior year of college, because that is what I told them. At the time that I applied for the internship, it was an impossible lark, and I didn't really think about any of the consequences of getting exposed as a fabulist because I simply didn't think it was ever going to happen.
But such an exposure will trigger a cascade of questions and open up the floodgates to a number of deceptions that I've had to vocalize, sign-on-the-dotted-line, and sustain in order to pull off what I am literally just one day from totally and completely getting away with.
I know it sounds like I'm a lying, no-good cheat, but to my mind, I applied for an internship in a field I am desperate to break into, got it, and have worked hard during my six weeks here at Teasdale House. While it's true that I lied about my age, and that I was close to finishing up college, not to mention telling my parents that this was all part of a University program for pre-college students — I wasn't trying to be deceptive. The false information propping it all together didn't seem like a big deal at the time. But now, it's clear to me that there's quite a few people — and institutions — unknowingly tangled up in the web of deception that I've weaved to pull all of this off. If it all falls apart... Well, frankly, I can't think about that right now.
I dash into the elevator bank, see a set of doors that are in the midst of closing, and jump my way in, like I'm narrowly escaping a mine shaft about to be rocked by a massive explosion.
It wasn't until after I screeched "Fuck!" that I realized someone was in the elevator with me.
"Good thing you made it! This is the last transport off the literary industrial complex prison module known as the Teasdale House of Strikethroughs and Last-Minute Changes."
Of course it would be Max, or Hot Max as I referred to him in my waking workaday fantasies. I also call him "The dude," because he's always the one dude in meetings full of women. He's one of those forever interns, meaning he's operating outside the usual seasonal cycle, and people think of him as a staffer, but ultimately, he's still just an intern. Likely, when he graduates from college, he will get a job at the publishing house. The word is that he's been promised exactly that. But I have no idea. What I do know is that he's quite the dapper dresser despite always looking like he was out a little too late the night before. I would occasionally relay messages to him from Francine. This is how our interactions would go:
"Francine would like to see the front cover selections for the Spring list's lead titles."
"Okay, I will bring them by in a few minutes, just need to print out the latest versions."
"Great, thanks," I'd say, already turned around with my head down.
Pathetic, I know. I made myself feel a little bit better by acknowledging the fact that he probably wasn't paying close enough attention to me to notice the ridiculously insecure way in which I was functioning, seeing me more as a sentient being transporting messages and documents from one person to another, nothing more, nothing less.
But there was no time for this kind of thinking. In fact, there was no time for thinking at all. The elevator in this shiny and slick new building might as well have been a hyperspace chamber, zapping you instantaneously to whatever floor you needed to get to by the push of a button.
So I just blurted out: "Hey, I just realized I forgot my ID at home. Do you think you could help me get something done for Francine?"
This not thinking thing was really working for me. Not only did I lay the groundwork of the forgotten ID, but I threw in a Francine name bomb. Even if Max was going to try and squirm his way out of helping me out — a fellow intern who never said more than two words to him, if he even remembered anything about me at all — the inclusion of the Francine factor was going to force his hand.
Max swung around and looked me square in the eyes, his smile further lighting up his light green eyes, as well as a no sleep swell to the perfect skin above his everyday, all the time, 5 o'clock shadow. He was holding the elevator door open for me.
"No problem," he said, with not a hint of annoyance, "Whaddya need?"