by Tracey Richardson
Claire Melbourne is a steely newspaper editor who’s just lost the biggest scoop of her career, thanks to her naïve intern’s mistake. Firing the young Ellie Kirkland for the offense was a no-brainer.
But when fate brings the two women together again, Claire finds herself questioning everything she thought she was—especially her cynical, take-no-prisoners approach to life. When she’s not breaking stories or breaking in reporters, Claire’s one outlet is to lose herself in Motown music and in the seat of a cheerful antique Mustang. But lose herself to the much younger, far-too-nice Ellie? There’s no breaking news there. Nope. That’s a story that needs to be spiked before it ever sees print.
Ellie Kirkland is at loose ends—and not for the first time. Resistant to following the path her parents insist on, she’s been trying out careers like she’s trying on outfits at Banana Republic. Now that her dream of being a journalist is over, Ellie must begin again. And the woman who crushed that very dream is the very woman who just might hold the key to Ellie’s future.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Ah, yes, Motown Music. One of the most recognized musical styles of the last sixty years. The staccato drumbeats, the incredible harmonies, the precision choreography. Songs about love, loss, even war. Girl groups, boy groups, solo acts. Motown had it all.
I’ve loved Motown since I was a small child. Why? Because it made you feel good, it made you want to dance and sing along with it, forget your troubles and have fun. And most of all? Because it was all happening a stone’s throw from where I grew up, across the Detroit River in Detroit, Michigan. Motown belonged to me. Its iconic record label even featured a map that cut right through my hometown, not far from the city of Windsor, Ontario.
I pay homage to Motown Music in my new novel, I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. Although it’s set in contemporary times, I wanted to travel back to my hometown, back to that iconic music that was on everyone’s playlist (okay, transistor radio dial!) in the 1960s and 1970s. Motown Music provides the backdrop to I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, and is almost a character in itself. Ellie Kirkland loves it, Claire Melbourne not so much. But Motown Music brings these two characters together, and I can’t think of a better Cupid!
While I was writing I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, the sounds of The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and countless other Motown acts filled my office space. I’d love to hear what Motown acts and songs have inspired you. And if you have any of those songs on your playlist, I’d love for you to fire it up while you read I’m Gonna Make You Love Me."
What a fun story with lots of fantastic music to read along to. One of my favourite tropes is age-gap romance and this did not disappoint; I really enjoyed this unraveling of the romance. The pace was perfect and I hadn’t realized I had read so long until I had finished the book in one sitting. It was easy to like both characters and the chemistry for both Ellie and Clare was there from the moment Clare returns Ellie’s pup home. This story had happily ever after written all over it from that moment on.
Both main characters have mother complex, low self-esteem and insecurity issues that make them well-rounded and interesting. The author slowly builds their relationship from their initial antagonism to a sizzling chemistry. Their intimate scenes are well written and Claire’s body image issues makes them even more realistic. It’s good to see a lesbian couple that is not idealised in the plot; Ellie’s mothers are as flawed as they come. The story is gripping to read not only regarding the characters’ personal struggles, but also thanks to the secondary plot that gives a glimpse into the world of investigative reporting, the role of the media and journalism ethic dilemmas.
Nowhere To Run To
It’d been one of those days from hell that demanded a massive drink or five—anything, Claire Melbourne prayed, to obliterate the sting of having to fire someone and losing a scoop that turned out to be the city’s biggest story in months. It should have been their story, it was their story, right in the palm of their hands—an exclusive, a scoop, about the deputy mayor on the take. Her newspaper had been gifted the chance to break the story, and now it was too late. Rival print and broadcast news outlets had grabbed the ball and run with it, leaving her paper to follow like a dog looking for scraps. Goddammit, she thought with fresh outrage. It was the kind of story that made careers, won awards, brought in new subscribers and advertisers. They blew it. Or rather, their clueless intern blew it. Hence, the firing.
The drink could wait. Claire palmed the keys to her mom’s—no, her—1965 convertible Mustang the color of a shiny red apple. Speed. The top down. An empty road unspooling ahead of her like a black ribbon. Music cranked to compete with the wind. It wouldn’t be enough to make her forget today, but it would be a start. Driving the old girl always gave her overloaded mind a badly needed distraction. And a cool antique car like the ’Stang with its V-8 engine was exactly the permission she needed to be a little reckless, a little daring, and a whole lot immature.
Five minutes later the city grew smaller in the rearview mirror. The late spring sun was glorious, warming Claire’s face while the wind tossed her collar-length, honey-blond hair in about six different directions. She tugged on her Oakley sunglasses and punched the stereo on—the only modern thing in the car because, hell, you needed a good sound system in a car like this. And on a shitty day like today, rock music, maybe even metal that she could scream to, would definitely help. But same as always, she felt the familiar tug—guilt too—and hit the pre-set button to the only oldies station in the city. It was, she was sorry to admit, sacrilegious in this car to listen to music any more contemporary than the seventies.
Claire tightened her grip on the nubby steering wheel, its solidness making her feel connected to the road and to the machine traversing it. The steering was loose, though, not like modern cars; you had to pay attention, keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road and feel everything. No checking texts or fiddling with the radio or you’d be on the shoulder before you knew it. She never understood why her mother withdrew a big chunk of her retirement savings to buy this thing nineteen years ago. Never truly appreciated it until her mother was gone and it ended up hers, along with a simple three-bedroom ranch-style home in disrepair and a bone-dry savings account. She’d almost sold the car after the funeral, but after taking it out a couple of times, she discovered it was more liberating, more relaxing, way more playful than she had expected—something her mom would have enjoyed teasing her about. This car, her mom had told her on more than one occasion, could teach a person to appreciate life. While Claire never entirely believed her, the car stayed, and she’d not regretted it.
She tapped the wheel distractedly. Ellie Kirkland was the girl’s—correction, the intern’s—name. Thick, wavy dark hair and big brown eyes that were too sensitive, too expressive, too vulnerable to belong to a reporter. Claire had thought so right from the get-go, but her best friend Jackson Hurley, who also happened to be Claire’s best reporter, convinced her to give Ellie a try for the twelve-month internship. Claire hadn’t wanted to. Ellie, she told Jacks, looked like she didn’t have the chops to be a reporter. Looked too trusting or something.
“What, because she’s pretty?” he’d countered.
“Maybe.” Pretty was for television, not print. Pretty didn’t like to get down and dirty, where the real news took place. “You know pretty doesn’t always get taken seriously, Jacks. This isn’t a goddamned fashion magazine. It’s a newspaper. A daily newspaper.”
“What, are you saying I’m not pretty?” He batted his long blond eyelashes at her, his hand on his hip. Indeed, Jackson was far too pretty for a guy. “Fine,” he snorted. “But don’t be like that.”
“Like some chauvinistic man in a three-piece suit with slicked back hair and a wife at home who won’t give him a blow job.”
Claire was used to Jackson’s crude talk, but she rolled her eyes out of duty. He’d hit a bulls-eye with the chauvinism comment, though, and so she relented and brought Ellie aboard, because women in any business sometimes needed a hand up, especially from other women. But oh, god, how she wished now she hadn’t. What a fucking mistake! The blunder was ultimately Claire’s responsibility as city editor of the newspaper, and she was fully expecting to be called up on the carpet for it. The only silver lining, if there was one, was that she’d saved this Ellie girl a lot of future heartache by firing her, because whatever she was, she was not a reporter.
Motown music—what else!—poured cheerfully from the speakers. The damned station was fixated on the stuff, and yes, this was Windsor with the real Motown only a stone’s throw across the Detroit River, so of course Motown was her mom’s favorite and of course Claire grew up on a steady diet of it. She’d tolerated it for her mom’s sake, but when it came to sixties and seventies music, if pressed, she preferred the pre-disco Bee Gees, Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, Hendrix, Elton John, America, and of course Janis. Always Janis. Claire hadn’t been born until 1976, so her taste in music was more Prince, Madonna, Bryan Adams, The Pretenders. The stuff you could really party to. Party to like it was 1999. Every generation had its signature music. Her mom’s was Motown. Someone like Ellie, Christ, it was probably Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, or worse, Justin Bieber. Ugh!
She glanced at the rising needle on the speedometer. The gauge was laid out horizontally on the dash with a big orange needle crawling up the miles per hour: thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five. Everything was simple in this car. A shifter on the floor between the seats, the round gas gauge with another orange needle, a headlight knob that you pulled out to turn on the lights, a cigarette lighter, windows you had to manually roll up or down. She had just finished college when her mom bought the car, and with typical know-it-all, new-to-adulthood arrogance, Claire had asked her why she hadn’t gone for a hot little foreign job. A BMW or a Porsche—something cool like that. Her mom wouldn’t bite, though. Just smiled and announced she was in love with this car and had wanted one since the day Ford began making them.
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Not the Diana Ross version but the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell one, and Claire couldn’t stop her mouth from twisting into a smile because dammit, her mother was right. Motown music, even when the songs were about getting your heart handed to you, made you want to get up and dance. Which was exactly what her mom did whenever she played the old records or the songs came on the radio. She’d grab Claire by the hand and twirl her around in their little linoleum and Formica kitchen and dance like it was some kind of contest she wanted desperately to win. They’d spin and mimic the sleek Motown choreography, as if they were a couple of Supremes, before collapsing into a heap of giggles. For all the rough moments they’d endured together, there was always a Motown song waiting to be played.
It struck Claire that something about this Ellie kid reminded her of her mother. Ah, yes, of course. It was that annoying, perpetually sunny outlook. The nice factor. It was what had turned her off Ellie in the first place, made her want to teach her that life wasn’t ice cream and sunshine and bright red convertibles (like this one) flying down an open highway. The newspaper business was about ferreting out controversial stories, working up contacts, sitting through boring old board meetings, or poring through two hundred pages of meeting minutes to find one decent storyline. It was about talking to murder victims’ families, watching EMTs scrape up the injured or dead from the pavement. It was about reporting on poor kids whose only good meal of the day was being cut by the school board, about city politicians or bureaucrats taking kickbacks over paving jobs and garbage pickup. The news business didn’t happen on the sunny side of the street, which was exactly where her mom, and this Ellie, preferred to dwell. It wasn’t reality, all that Pollyanna bullshit. And it didn’t get anybody anywhere. Just meant you sailed through life without a clue as to what was really going on around you. Christ.
So many times Claire wished her mother had been a fighter, that she’d possessed even the tiniest nasty streak. Like when Claire’s dad left her for that floozy who worked at the diner out in the industrial park. Yeah, that would have been a good time for Claire’s mom to let out her inner bitch. Also, the times when he was late with child support payments or withheld them altogether because floozy Cheryl needed a new car. Nice didn’t keep your husband at home. Nice didn’t pay the mortgage. And nice sure as hell didn’t qualify you for a job in journalism. But what the hell, eh Mom? Throw on the old Motown tunes and act like none of this shit is happening to you. Yeah, that’s the way to do it, right, Ma? That’ll make it all better. Not!
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was next on the hit parade, by Diana Ross and the Temptations. She knew the damned words by heart, had almost started singing them when instead she ground her teeth in frustration at how perfect this little spit in her eye was. The song was her mother’s favorite. She used to sing it to Claire when Claire was a kid, sing it while dancing her around the kitchen floor. Against Claire’s will, the memory began to soften her mood. Because whatever her shortcomings, her mom—
“Shit! Shit!” Claire jerked the wheel in the direction away from the furry black animal that had darted out beside her right front tire. There was a screech of rubber on pavement before the car launched into a fishtailing skid and onto the gravel shoulder, missing the animal as far as Claire could tell. She fought the wheel to hold it steady, prayed the tires did their job. They did. When the car mercifully came to a halt, Claire hopped out, pissed. Pissed that the car could have been damaged or, worse, that she could have been injured. These old cars didn’t come with airbags and side impact panels. Didn’t even come with shoulder strap seatbelts.
She cast around for the animal that she’d like to kick into the next county, and there it was, a medium-sized, curly-haired, black dog, one of those whatcha-ma-doodle things. Labradoodle? It sat shivering in the ditch like it was the middle of winter instead of the end of May.
Goddammit. It was looking at her with big wet brown eyes that would surely be weeping if the thing were human, but she refused to let the pathetic sight defuse her anger. “Come here, you little bastard,” she yelled, but the dog only hunkered deeper into the mud and tall grass. “Don’t make me come and get you.”
That was exactly what it did, and Claire cursed as she hopped the ditch and grabbed the thing by the collar. Not that she’d ever be mistaken for being a dog lover, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave it there to get hit by the next car that came along. Plus it had a collar and tag, with a pink leash dangling from it—pink, for fuck sakes!—which meant it was somebody’s pet—somebody who did a shitty job of watching their pet, mind you. Piper, the bone-shaped metal tag said, with a phone number and address on the back. With one hand she hung on to the quivering dog and with the other pulled her cell phone from a cargo pocket in her pants. The line was busy. Of course it was, because it was one of those fucking days.
“Are you a girl or a boy, Piper?”
The dog stared at her like she was a complete idiot.
“Fine.” She peeked underneath, saw it was a girl. “What the hell are you doing all the way over here, anyway?” The address was at least three kilometers away. “Fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, girl. All muddy and covered in burrs now. I’m sure your owner will be thrilled.”
The dog looked like it wanted to cry again, and Claire looked skyward in frustration because the poor thing and its plight were actually softening her sour mood. Jesus, now I’m turning soft over a dog? She dialed the number again. Still busy. Great. And it was going to rain soon, judging by the black clouds scudding along the western horizon.
Well, rain or not, it wasn’t her fault the dog had run away. And besides, she was hungry for dinner. And thirsty for the stiff drink she hadn’t yet fixed. Claire turned and hopped back in the car, but before she could shut the door, she pictured her mother frowning at her. And shaking an accusatory finger. You can’t leave that poor dog out there, Claire Catherine. Now do the right thing, for goodness sake, and see that that dog gets home safely. It’s the least you can do since you almost hit it with my car. Claire dragged herself back out of the car. Aw fuck. If she didn’t do exactly what she suspected her mother was telepathically ordering her to do, she could expect something catastrophic to happen. Like her coffeemaker exploding and sending coffee spewing everywhere, like it did the time she’d boxed up her mom’s Harlequin romance novels—all three hundred of them—intending to donate them to the thrift store. Even now, the boxes of books sat in her unfinished basement because she was afraid to test her mother again.
She sighed at the curly-furred mutt, which only looked at her quizzically. “All right, Miss Piper, goddammit. Ever ride in a 1965 Mustang before?”
Ellie Kirkland paced the small living room, her heart beating like she was running a marathon. She glanced out the window and frowned at the sprinkle of rain that had begun falling.
“That’s it,” she announced to Marissa, her cousin and roommate. “I’m going out again to look for Piper.” She’d spent the last two hours driving around and had only stopped back at their rented townhouse for a pee break and to see if Piper had returned on her own.
“It’ll be dark soon, and since Piper’s black, we’ll never spot her.” Marissa was always the calm, sensible one. Which was probably why she’d graduated at the top of her nursing class. “We’ll keep calling animal control. Hopefully somebody’s picked her up by now. Or she’ll make her way back. It hasn’t been that long. Let’s give it a little more time.”
“But it’s starting to rain, Riss. I can’t leave her out there. She’ll be scared, and…” And I’ll die if anything happens to her!
She was near tears again, unable to forgive herself. She’d been walking Piper when a cat ran across their path and that was it, the chase was on. The leash ripped away from her hands before she knew it, and Piper was gone. If I hadn’t been using my other hand to hold that damned coffee cup, it would have been fine. That’s it. No more mocha lattes on dog walks, even if the cute barista around the corner is serving them naked next time.
“She’s a smart dog, Ellie. And she won’t melt from the rain, trust me.”
“There’s cars out there. And other animals. The poor thing isn’t used to fending for herself. She’s—”
The doorbell rang. Oh shit. What if it was bad news? What if it was somebody who’d run over Piper and now they’d come to tell her? Or the cops, coming to deliver the bad news? She’d never forgive herself, and the thought of Piper’s poor little limp body made her feel instantly sick to her stomach. The dog had been her graduation present a year ago from her parents. They’d actually gotten a clue and figured out somewhere along the line how much she liked dogs. Piper was more like Ellie’s baby, to the point where Marissa had thrown her a “puppy shower” last August. At Halloween and Christmas, Easter too, Ellie liked to dress Piper in cute, frilly, themed costumes, to endless teasing from her Facebook and Instagram friends. She couldn’t lose this dog. And if she did, she’d never hear the end of it from her parents…that she was too immature to look after a dog, that she could never see anything through, that it was so typical of her inability to handle responsibility. Piper’s disappearance was the icing on the cake that was made purely out of shit today.
“Don’t,” she called out weakly to Marissa, as in, don’t answer the door. But it was too late. Marissa was letting someone in, talking in a low voice, and Ellie’s imagination ran wild again with visions of Piper dead or injured, her heart cracking with each dreadful thought. And then came the unmistakable flurry of the click-clacking of dog nails on the tile floor. Piper? “Oh my god, is that you, girl?”
The dog, damp from the light rain and smelling of grass and mud, bounded into the living room, practically bowling Ellie over. She dropped to her knees and let Piper lick her face before furiously hugging her. She was wet, a little muddy, but Ellie didn’t care. “You’ve come back! Oh, thank god. You bad, bad cat chaser, you.” She stroked Piper’s curly head and gave her the blackest stare she could summon, which really wasn’t much. “No more chasing cats for you. I’m getting you a harness. And a muzzle. And maybe a ball and chain to slow you down. But a bath is the first thing you’re getting.”
Piper’s ears drooped at the word bath.
“A-hem.” It was Marissa, inclining her head toward someone in the foyer that Ellie couldn’t see. The hero who’d brought Piper home.
“Oh, god,” Ellie said, jumping to her feet and dashing for the foyer, anxious to thank whomever it was. “I can’t thank you enough for returning my d—”
Holy shit! It was her boss, Claire Melbourne, right here in the flesh. Well, ex-boss as of noon today. Like a sudden dropped cell phone call, she lost the link between Claire and Piper and could only replay in her mind the moment this woman had fired her. She’d not been very nice about it either. Her face all red and tight so that you could see every muscle in her jaw and neck. She was super pissed, and rightly so, Ellie supposed. She’d fucked up big time. And she was very sorry about it, but Ms. Melbourne—Claire, everyone else called her—wasn’t handing out any second chances. Wasn’t entertaining excuses either. Just told her in a don’t-fuck-with-me voice that her time at the newspaper had come to an abrupt end and to please pack her things immediately and hand in her key card and ID card. It wasn’t entirely a real job, only a twelve-month internship that paid little more than minimum wage, but still. To Ellie it was a job, and one she’d gotten all on her own. She cried all the way home, then took Piper out to walk off her sadness and frustration. Which was how Piper had gotten away on her.
She fought to regain her voice, fearing it sounded embarrassingly trembly and high-pitched. “Ms. Melbourne, w-what are you doing here? Did I…are you…” Here to fire me again? No, that couldn’t be it. People didn’t get fired twice.
“Oh!” her ex-boss exclaimed, looking, for the first time Ellie could ever recall, completely rattled as she ran a hand through her hair. “It’s you.”
Marissa’s eyes swung from one to the other, like she couldn’t quite figure out what the hell was happening. Well, neither can I, Ellie thought.
“Your dog,” Claire Melbourne said. “It…she…”
“Piper! Oh god, she got away on me this afternoon when I was walking her. She chased a cat and…well, I’m so grateful you found her, you have no idea.” Civility won the day because Ellie would do anything for the person who’d rescued Piper. Even if that person was Cruella De Vil in cute cargo pants and a tailored blouse and leather ankle boots that looked like they were made for walking. Walking all over people. And which were now covered in mud, thanks to Piper’s little escapade. Ellie gulped. If Claire Melbourne demanded new boots out of this ordeal, Ellie was in big trouble. She could never afford it.
Claire Melbourne pointed her chin at Ellie. “Well, I was driving and she ran out and I almost hit her.”
Ellie’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh you didn’t, did you? I mean, she’s okay, right?” Piper was already playing with one of her stuffed toys, squeaking the shit out of it, and looked absolutely fine, but you never knew.
“Yes, she’s okay, and no, I didn’t hit her. Her tag had your address on it.”
“Well,” Marissa interjected. “We’re so glad you did. It was very kind of you. Would you like to come in for coffee? Or a drink?”
Ellie wanted to die. What the hell was Marissa doing inviting the boss-from-hell in for a drink? Oh, wait. Marissa couldn’t possibly know this was the same Claire Melbourne who was her boss. Nor had she yet told Marissa her news about being fired. It wasn’t that Marissa would be judgmental, or go blabbing it to Ellie’s oh-so-judgy, overachieving, perfectionist parents, Dr. and Dr. Kirkland. Ellie had been so caught up in Piper’s disappearance that there hadn’t been time to tell Marissa.
Claire’s eyes widened in alarm, probably matching the fear in Ellie’s, as an uncomfortable moment of silence passed.
“Actually,” Claire said, rescuing them both, “I have somewhere to be. I just wanted to return, er, Piper, home.”
“Right,” Ellie said, leaping to the door because she couldn’t open it fast enough to get this woman the hell out of here. “And thank you again. Thank you so much! You…you’re a life saver.”
“Well, it…it was no trouble.” A smile weaker than water, and then Claire Melbourne was striding purposefully to her Mustang. Her Mustang of the ancient and very cool variety. Okay, it was a pretty sweet car but it did not match the driver’s personality.
“Wow,” Marissa said. “Look at that car! Sexy, wouldn’t you say?”
Ellie rolled her eyes. Yes, the car was lovely, but the fact that it was owned by Claire Melbourne was all she could see.
“What?” Marissa continued. “I think it’s sexy. Its owner is not bad either. If you like the domineering type.” She laughed at her own joke. “Ms., what was her name? Melbourne? Did you see the way she—”
“I don’t want to talk about her. Or her damned car.” Ellie stalked to the kitchen, pawed through the Keurig pod collection, dug out a cappuccino, and popped it into the machine.
Marissa, hot on her heels, wouldn’t drop it. “Look, I thought she…Oh wait. Melbourne. Isn’t that your boss’s name? Ellie, was that your boss?”
Tears pricked at the back of Ellie’s eyes. “Yes.”
“Why didn’t you say? You know I like a woman who knows how to take charge. Geez, I’d have been visiting your office on a daily basis. I mean, I know she’s older, but, like, hello, cougar!”
“Look, she’s not…” Ellie couldn’t quite manage to get out the words that Claire wasn’t her boss anymore. “She’s not that…I don’t know. And jeez, Riss, I don’t look at her that way. It’s, like, icky to think of your boss as sexy. She’s…Ms. Melbourne. Claire.” Ellie had always had a hard time calling authority figures by their first name. It felt weird. Probably because she didn’t truly feel like a grownup yet, even though most of her high school friends were set in careers now, a few were married, a handful even had a kid or two.
“All right, agreed on the boss thing, but holy Jesus, El. I’ve never seen eyes that shade of blue before. They’re like sexy wolf eyes. Like…like…chips of pale blue ice I’d love to melt. Ooh, and that mouth, it’s begging to be kissed, don’t you think?”
Ellie slammed her eyes shut. She did not want to think of the woman who’d fired her that way. “Can we please stop talking about her?” She knew her cousin was simply having a little fun, plus she was still sowing her wild lesbian oats (which she seemed to have an unending supply of) and never seemed to grow tired of talking about women. But if Ellie didn’t succeed in changing the subject, Marissa would be at it all evening.
Piper bounded into the kitchen, trailing a blue towel in her mouth.
“Where did you get that from, Piper?”
She growled, clamped down harder on the towel, and wouldn’t let go when Ellie tried to extract it from her teeth.
“I think the hot Ms. Melbourne used it to dry Piper off and left it near the door.” Marissa handed Ellie her mug of cappuccino and put a coffee pod in the machine for herself.
“Crap,” Ellie said, plucking a dog treat from the pottery canister on the counter and trading it for the towel in Piper’s mouth.
“What’s wrong? Just bring it back to sexy boss lady when you go to work on Monday.”
This was the part where Ellie—again—got to feel like the perpetual loser she was. Nothing had ever come easy to her, at least not in the career department. Unlike Marissa, who’d sailed through nursing school a couple of years ago and was regarded as something of a young ER hotshot at Windsor Regional Hospital’s downtown location. Nor was Ellie anything like her twin sister Erin, who was finishing her fourth year of medical school and happily following in the footsteps of their parents, both of whom had family medicine practices bursting with full rosters and both of whom had known since they’d played doctor with their Barbie dolls exactly what they wanted to do when they grew up. Doctors Emily and Elaine Kirkland were the perfect physicians, the perfect lesbian couple with the perfect little family. Erin was their little chip off the old block, their little mini me. But not Ellie. Ellie still couldn’t seem to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of her life, and at twenty-six, there was little family patience for what they considered her inertia, her inherent lack of ambition. Worse was they thought of her as not as smart as the rest of them, with their dinner table talk of gene mutations and stem cell therapy and Freud versus Jung that was pointedly meant to exclude her.
Marissa wasn’t like them. She had infinite patience for Ellie and her indecisiveness, which was why Ellie roomed with her instead of living at home, where her mothers sucked the life out of her with their judgment-laced questions and their barbed advice. She’d never get out from under their aura of overachieving ambitiousness, and it was almost enough to make her want to give up even trying.
She struck a casual pose. “You know, I’m not so sure the whole journalism experiment is working out.”
“What? I thought you loved it?”
“I did. I’m…sort of…not very good at it.”
“But you did well enough in it at school. And you’ve been at the newspaper for eight months now.”
It was now or never. “Claire Melbourne fired me today.”
Marissa’s hand flew to her mouth. She sat down on the stool at the breakfast bar, stunned into silence. Which Ellie knew wouldn’t last long. It didn’t. “Is she nuts? Why would she fire you? You’re so happy and friendly and helpful, like the cute puppy everyone loves.”
“Gee, thanks. I think.”
“No, really! You’re, like, the person least likely to get fired from anything in the whole world.”
“You’re being nice, and I appreciate it, but being a cheerful puppy dog doesn’t cut it in the news business. I sucked at it, Riss. I blew a big scoop.”
“What do you mean you blew a big scoop? And why was an intern entrusted with a big scoop anyway? Didn’t you have a mentor reporter or editor? Someone to help you out? Take the reins?”
“I happened to answer the phone yesterday from an anonymous caller letting us know he had some kind of incriminating tape of the deputy mayor and somebody doing some sort of shady business deal. I scribbled it on a piece of paper. And then I had to run out to interview somebody about therapy dogs. I was going to be late, so I didn’t have time to pass on the message. And then, by the time I got back, everybody was gone for the day. And, well…”
“You also lost the piece of paper?”
The memory of her screw-up brought tears to Ellie’s eyes. “I didn’t mean to, Riss. But it turned out to be a really big deal.” Her absentmindedness was another thing her mothers liked to harp on. It’s not like she could help it. She simply got…distracted easily.
“Come here.” Marissa pulled her in for a hug. “You’ll find something else. I know you will. Trust me, it’s not the end of the world.”
Ellie wasn’t in a mood to believe her. “First I dropped out of pharmacy school, now I’ll never be a journalist.”
“Stop it. Pharmacy wasn’t for you and you know it. And yesterday was one mistake. You can try for a job at a radio station or another newspaper. Television is where you really belong anyway, with your looks.”
Marissa was an excellent cheerleader, and Ellie was eternally grateful to have someone in her corner, backing her up no matter what or how often she screwed up. “I don’t know. To be honest, I don’t think I have the heart—or the heartlessness, I should say—to be a news reporter anyway. I need to figure something else out.”
Back to square one. Yet again.
“Riss, please don’t tell my moms about this. They don’t need to know until I decide what I’m doing next, okay?” She could practically hear them, accusing her of changing careers as often as she changed socks. And Erin, who had her own charmed life to live, wasn’t around to be a buffer.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Now come on, let’s go out for dinner and a drink. My treat.”
“You picked up dinner last time.”
“So what. I’m not keeping track.”
“Tell you what. I’ll buy dinner if you do me a favor and take that blanket back to boss-from-hell next week.”
Marissa broke into a devilish grin. “I would have given anything to do that before you told me about her firing you. Now I’d want to slap her silly, so no. I’m afraid you’ll have to do it, sport.”