“Hey, sleepy head. You’ve got a phone call.” Mark’s voice awakens me. I open my eyes and discover I’m still sleeping on the couch. He’s dressed in pajamas and the sun is streaming through the window. I see my clothing folded neatly on the coffee table.
“Your phone’s been going off for the last hour. Someone’s trying to reach you.” He hands me the phone from my purse before walking into the kitchen. I smell coffee brewing.
Opening my cell, I notice there are eight missed calls starting from late last night. That doesn’t make any sense. Since I was fired there hasn’t been very much for my phone to do. I press the icon for messages, but only hear half of the first one.
“Miss Sharp, this is Emily from Glenvale Cancer Treatment Center. I’m your father’s nurse. I need to inform you there has been an emergency.”
“I have to go,” I say to Mark, trembling from the sudden shock. Looking around for my purse, I stop just long enough to see my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I look ghastly. I don’t have time to deal with that now.
“What’s going on? Where are you going? I need you to keep me informed about what you’re doing.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not on my way to get arrested or anything,” I respond with biting sarcasm. I don’t know what makes me want to treat him so badly. I just know I need to get out of here now. “It’s my father. He’s in ICU. He’s had some sort of crash or stroke or something. I don’t know. They moved him from the Cancer Treatment Center to Mount Sinai. He… well… he’s….”
“Shhh.” Mark puts his arm around me, knowing I can’t say the words out loud yet. I drink his comfort like warm tea for a moment and then go stiff in his embrace. I can’t let myself be weak. Not now.
“I’m fine. It’s fine. I just need to get there.”
“Do you want me to take you? I would be happy to get you some—”
“No. I don’t need your help. I just need to go!”
I walk straight out the door, closing it with a bang. I’m so afraid he is going to call down to the doorman or catch me coming out of the parking garage, I actually run to the car. It isn’t until I’m on the highway that I catch my breath and realize I just made a scene for no reason other than my total fear of being vulnerable in front of Mark. After all we have been through–the job, the arrest, the love, the sex–I have displayed every possible emotion in front of that man and still I ran from him. I just had to be the “strong one.”
“Daddy’s strong girl,” I say out loud, stuck behind a bread truck in a traffic jam. I hate being stuck in this car with nothing but my thoughts. I’m losing Dad. I feel it, and I don’t know what to do about it. It’s never been a secret I was a “Daddy’s girl” and I have always been closer to him than mom. Dad’s so accepting, laid-back, and sure. He always had a plan and knew what to say.
Mom was the uptight one. Everything had to be perfect, pristine and correct for her. She had everything she loved in life, but there was always that edge of unhappiness or emptiness in her. I never knew why, really. She kept everything to herself. Somehow, I always loved being with Dad, and yet, I realize now–I ended up so much like my mom. I remember swimming lessons. No matter how well I did, or how fast I went, Mom would always suggest I try harder, do better, or beat my last time. Dad would always say “I’m proud of you, honey” and let it go at that.
My dad, always so proud of me–his strong little girl–and what am I doing while he is slipping away? I’m having sex in a pool while my life’s work crumbles around me and falls into the hands of none other than Valerie James. I don’t know how he would feel about the whole sex thing. Even when I was engaged to Greg and we were living together, my dad pretended I was still a virgin. But I know what he would say if I told him about Valerie James ending up with Lynx and everything I worked so hard to achieve.
“You started it,” he would say, shaking his head. He says it every time my rivalry with Valerie is the topic of conversation. “You started the fight with her, honey, and one of these days she might just finish it.”
Slowly the cars in front of me begin to lurch forward. It’s not fast enough for me to make much progress or even need to pay attention to the road, but as we say in New York–at least we’re moving. Oh, Daddy. I think you might be right this time. I think she is going to finish it, and finish me in the process.
I met Valerie my senior year in college. I was a lead editor on the paper, and won a number of awards for investigative reporting and writing in college competitions. Dr. Louden, my advisor, said the journalism staff voted me “most likely to win a Pulitzer.” Then he told me the worst thing he could have ever said.
“You’re the most talented journalist we’ve had here since Valerie James, and a close second to her too!”
Close second? Close second? I wasn’t going to be second to anyone. Of course, it didn’t help that a few months later Valerie was invited to be a guest lecturer for one of our classes. She was the youngest assistant editor at Ladies World and was supposed to be giving us tips on what journalism was like in the “real world.”
“It’s important to remember when you get out into reality that in college you write what you want to write, out there you must write what the reader wants to read,” she said. Everyone in class could only see her success. I saw challenge.
“Wouldn’t you call that ‘catering to the masses’?” I asked pointedly.
“I would call it good business, Miss… um…”
“Sharp, Julia Sharp, Miss James. You might have read my work, I won the Hearst Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting this year with an exposé on school charter programs.”
“Nope, can’t say I’ve seen it,” Valerie responded blithely. “But I’m a professional editor now, not a student, so I read what I get paid to read.”
The class chuckled politely and waited for her to go with the rest of her golden “how to” tips. But her superior attitude and over-use of the word “professional” was like waving the red cape in front of the bull. So, of course, I charged at her.
“Really? You only do what you get paid to do? That doesn’t sound like journalism to me. It sounds more like prostitution.” The class gasped and Dr. Louden started walking toward the front of the room.