Matthew Quick has a gift for telling a story.

Our main guy here is Lucas. Lucas lives in Majestic, Pennsylvania. This is a town ripped apart by a horrible tragedy. While Lucas is hailed as a hero, he doesn’t see himself as one. He has lost his wife. Rather she is dead but still visits faithfully. She is an angel now and Lucas can’t very well go around saying that. Instead, he writes to his Jungian analyst, Karl.

Although Karl doesn’t answer the letters are revealing and cathartic. Then he finds a boy living in his backyard. Eli is eighteen and has no one. He isn’t a favorite in town but Lucas and Eli form a bond that could heal the entire town.

This is a beautiful story of resilience and the beauty of art as well its healing powers. Guardian angels are truly among us.

NetGalley/ November 1st 2022, by Avid Reader Press / Simon Schuster


I have been a fan of this author for a very long time. I lived here for many years. Until Katrina. I recognize quite a few players in this one, John! I’m delighted to have had a sneak peek at this excellent look at the past.

Grisham is in a unique position to write this story. He knew all the players. Most people hear Biloxi and think of Kessler Air Force Base or the CBs. Those things came first. And as always, crime soon followed. While the seafood industry brought so many people to work on the coast, it also brought people looking to take advantage. It was always known which people had connections and which did not. I won’t mention names.

Back in the day, the Dixie Mafia ran the coast. But it was pretty organized for a loose organization. While many boasted of being members, the real members stayed quiet.

In this tale, two friends grow up to be on different sides of the law. One is determined to clean up the crime and make his name. The other is just as determined to continue being “The Boss”. How will they end up? Well, you will have to read it but I can tell you it is a saga. The characters are brilliant and the story rings true.

I loved the characters in this book! It’s a great read!

NetGalley/ Doubleday 10/18/2022

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout brings us more of Lucy!

From Pulitzer Prize-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout comes a poignant, pitch-perfect novel about a divorced couple stuck together during lockdown–and the love, loss, despair, and hope that animate us even as the world seems to be falling apart.

As the world grinds to a slow halt with a pandemic, Lucy is told by William to pack up and be ready to leave. Now. She thinks he is overreacting and he is in a full-blown panic!

Staying in a small house in Maine with her ex-husband isn’t Lucy’s idea of a good time. She misses her home and the city and her daughters, who have also taken refuge out of the city. She is also still mourning the death of David. Isolated in Maine for who knows how long, they make the best of it. They even make friends, at a social distance. But the day-to-day enforced solitude is grinding. People get on each other’s nerves.

But there is so much more, as in all of her books. How do we show empathy, kindness, and most importantly, forgiveness? Lucy will learn much about her own strengths and weaknesses and will discover that love is love and no matter how far apart we are, love stays strong.

I am always in awe of this author’s writing. The characters aren’t perfect by a long shot! But that is where we learn to do better.

NetGalley/September 20, 2022, Random House/Penguin

Personally, I was thrilled to find out the author will be in Dallas and then tickled pink to find out she will be in OKC as well! I’ll report back

Dispatches from the Gilded Age by Julia Reed

Dispatches from the Gilded Age: A Few More Thoughts on Interesting People, Far-Flung Places, and the Joys of Southern Comforts

Forward by Roy Blount, Jr.

In the middle of the night on March 11, 1980, the phone rang in Julia Reed’s Georgetown dorm. It was her boss at Newsweek, where she was an intern. He told her to get in her car and drive to her alma mater, the Madeira School. Her former headmistress, Jean Harris, had just shot Dr. Herman Tarnower, The Scarsdale Diet Doctor. Julia didn’t flinch. She dressed, drove to Madeira, got the story, and her first byline and the new American Gilded Age was off and running.

And so begins this collection of essays from Julia Reed. A Southern Treasure.

I remember the Scarsdale Diet and the shooting of the doctor and the trial. Such drama! With one century ending and another beginning, Julia gives us a look at so many people, places, and food! Those hot olives!!

So many of her best profiles. One of which we just lost today as I write this. Andre’ Leon Talley. A veritable who’s who of the time. The Bush family, Madeleine Albright, and so many more. Dining at favorite restaurants, what food was popular as well as the fashions of the time.

Her writing style is relatable as well as hilarious at times. This is one of those books that you find yourself reading again. As a Mississippi former resident, I loved this book. The South at its finest.

NetGalley/August 23rd, 2022 by St. Martin’s Press


This is a rather difficult review to write. There were so many things I had never heard of before.

The story of seven women. Living with generational trauma. We begin with Dorothy Moy. Washington’s one-time poet laureate. When her young daughter begins showing signs of the same type of behavior that plagues Dorothy, she decides to go for some experimental treatments that are thought to mitigate inherited trauma. That one I had to look up.

In doing so she connects with past generations of her own family. And in all of the scenarios, there is a man looking for her. So a painful and traumatic past isn’t the only thing she’s searching for answers for.

Her choice to end the cycle of pain may help her find her lost love or it may cost her something.

I enjoyed the women’s stories. How different and yet similar they were. Some of these things I had never heard about before and I am very glad I now understand them.

NetGalley/August 2nd, 2022 by Atria Books

HELLO JUNE! Spillin’ Tea!

Here it is June already. It hasn’t been the greatest few weeks, has it? Children are being murdered in their classrooms, here in a hospital, and craziness is rampant.

I rarely turn on the news anymore. It’s soon primary time so all of the politicians in Oklahoma are bragging about being endorsed by the other guy who lost. It’s depressing. Guns before kids. Until one of theirs is killed nothing will get done. It’s easier for an 18-year-old to buy a long gun than it is for a rape victim to get an abortion. I guarantee if all the women in the country took up assault rifles over this issue the NRA would shut down assault rifles real quick!

Anyhoo, we have been fighting allergies and asthma, with both of us having to go to the hospital. OU Boy had another MI and had to have all of his 5 stints scrubbed out as they were 100% blocked. Then he had an ear infection and the doctor perforated his ear drum trying to get the wax out. The pup has allergies as well so we all look like we are crying all the time. I think we are all past the worst of it now.

Luckily I didn’t miss going on the river in the kayak because it has rained or been windy AF all week. Perfect weather for curling up with a book. And I have read a lot. Right now I’m reading Ann Cleeves Rising Tide, a Vera Stanhope mystery. I love the show, Vera. We are also watching The Sopranos from the beginning because OU Boy has NEVER seen the Sopranos! We finally got to see Stranger Things 4 and I quit halfway through. These aren’t kids anymore. It was a bit over the top. I enjoyed the Johnny Depp trial more. At least it was funny.

This morning the sun is shining and the birds are pooping all over the sidewalk. There is a red cardinal on my birdfeeder and I’m feeling hopeful I can get outside today. And in a stunning turn of events, I only have 10 books on my NetGalley list! I’ve managed to catch up on other reads and even edit a cookbook.

I was planning on going to the beach this month, but my sister went to Sanibel Island and came back with Covid, so maybe not. Coco is almost 2 pounds now and we call her The Flash. She could be a racing dog she’s so fast.

What is everyone planning for the summer? Going any place? Reading anything I should know about?

xx P


A savvy former street child working at a law office in Mumbai fights for redemption and a chance to live life on her own terms in this fresh, propulsive debut novel about fortune and survival.

Rakhi is just twenty-three years old but is still deeply affected by the loss of her best friend eleven years ago. She may work in a law office, but she is still living in the slums of Mumbai. Justice For All is a human-rights law organization headed up by a well-thought-of lawyer who gives her a chance.

She smart. Very smart. And though she is looked down on by others, she is managing to get by.

And then she meets Alex. Alex wants the real India experience. And in return he makes promises. It sounds like a good deal. But if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Everything Rakhi knows will be turned upside down. She will have to make choices that are hard for her in order to survive. And she is looking at the reality of the costs of getting yourself back.

Very impressive debut novel!

NetGalley/May 10th, 2022 by Ballantine Books

Our Little World by Karen Winn

Coming of age in the ’80s. So much angst. So many secrets and misunderstandings that go with having a sibling in your school who you think is so much more than you are. It’s a dangerous thing and can end in lifelong emotional trauma.

Bee and her sister Audrina are 12 and 11. A new family has just moved into their cul-de-sac with a cute boy named Max and a little sister who is four named Sally.

It’s July and it’s hot and the lake is the place to be. Someone’s mom is always willing to haul them to the club pool or to the lake.

When Sally goes missing while at the lake, everyone looks suspicious to Bee. And her relationship with her sister is going from close to really far apart.

I enjoyed reading about the complexities of being and having sisters. There is always one who feels less than and that would be Bee. In her mind, her sister is the star and she is the nobody.

There was so much emotional trauma and heartbreak in this book that it was hard to read. I didn’t have an issue with all of the darkness, but I would have appreciated some balance with light.

NetGalley/May 3rd, 2022 by Dutton Books

Hello April!

Another April is here. Finally, we got a bit of rain this week. Not much. There are still wildfires burning and the grass at the farm feels like straw, but the time changed and so did the month.

Because I have a sister who is an April Fool’s baby, I tend to stay away from jokes. I think the fact that she was born on April 1st and our Momma named her Mary Jane is joke enough.

Spring is such a busy time. Calves are being born, chicks popping out of their shell. The whole rebirth thing going on. What I could do without is the flowering Bradford Pear trees that make me sneeze and wheeze.

I’ve read a bunch of really good thrillers lately and am looking forward to Don Winslow’s City on Fire coming out on the 26th of this month. I’ve read Lisa Scottoline’s What Happened to the Bennetts? Harlan Coben’s The Match. Lucy Foley’s The Paris Apartment, Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule, Sally Helpworth’s The Younger Wife, and a whole lot more.

Mainly we have been being managed by our 1 pound chorkie who is training us. OU Boy began telling her, “Go potty and you can come to play.” Well, now every time she goes potty she ‘screams’ loudly and stands by it. Like, look what I did! It was funny the first day. At two in the morning, it was much less funny. She doesn’t really bark so it sounds like someone is strangling a cat which will wake you out of the deepest sleep!

She is rather like Waldo. We’re always looking for her and she blends into anything. On Facebook, we play where’s the dog. Here Miss Chicken has obviously done grievous harm to her which is why she is ripping out her throat. She’s a vicious little thing. But she has done wonders for our mental health. Two grown adults laying on the floor being her chew toys.

Last weekend was a four-day one for us so we grabbed the camping gear and the kayaks and headed to the lake. It was beautiful and it was great to be out on the water. The nights were cool but we brought a heater. We took Coco and her playpen with all of her stuff. On Day one we took her outside and put her on the grass. She looked up at us and ran back to the tent and went to bed. She was not impressed. She trembled at every owl, coyote, or just three boys on a bike. By Sunday morning it was just too much so we packed up, gave our tent to the kids next door, and agreed our camping days will now involve a cabin or hotel room. I personally love camping but we are pretty much spoiled by now and understand we can visit without spending the night.

Things have been so uncertain and scary around the world and we are trying to find ways to do self-care. Personally, I have put up more boundaries and stopped waiting for people to get vaxxed or even listening to them when they get sick. So my world may be smaller but the quality is so much better. And boy do I ever get a lot of reading done!

I hope we all have a peaceful and successful week and don’t slap anyone in public!

xx P

Smile and Look Pretty by AMANDA PELLEGRINO*BLOG TOUR* @amandapeliss @harpercollins@parkrowbooks @netgalley

Smile and Look Pretty

Four best friends, all with jobs as assistants to bosses who really are horrid. While they meet to gripe about them it just doesn’t seem enough.

Cate decides to write a blog where they can anonymously tell stories about these bosses and they all jump in. With help from Lauren, Olivia, and Max, these women are fed up and not going to take it anymore. They are all talented in their fields but keep getting looked over for promotion or have to put up with some pretty rough things because they are women.

But soon the blog catches fire. It seems the network of assistants and others are also fed up and are willing to name names.

Soon the New York Times runs a story on the blog and before long they have some hard decisions to make. And boy do they ever make them! Taking their lives and futures into their own hands and exposing the worst of the worst.

I read this so fast! Having once been an assistant I can say it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Babysitting his house while he was on vacation, meaning finding care for my child. Picking up laundry and even sending flowers to his wife and girlfriends on holidays. So I was all in with this book.

I loved every one of these brave women and hope you will too.

NetGalley/ March 8th, 2022 by Park Row

Here is a sneak peek at Chapter 1!

The signs were always there. He was late to a few meetings. He started happy hour at 2:00 p.m. He promoted from within.

The signs weren’t noticeable at first. Until they were.

He was late to Marjorie’s meetings, not Ben’s. He offered scotch on the rocks to the guys. Most of his former male assistants were now editors.

It took years of working with him for Cate to learn those things. To realize they were signs.

But he had a reputation. That she knew from the beginning.

“You’ll need a thick skin,” he’d said on her first day. A warning.

She didn’t extend him the same courtesy.

Cate could tell you every book Larcey Publishing had ever released in its twenty-year history, and how old she had been when she first read it. The red LP stood out on all the spines in her dad’s “home office,” which was really the walk-in closet of her parents’ bedroom converted into a small library lined with bookshelves, the clothing rails outfitted with a plank of painted wood to form a desk. When she got home from school, she’d sneak into her parents’ room and read whatever book was on her dad’s nightstand that week—no matter how age inappropriate the title. By the time she was ten, she knew she wanted to spend her life helping people tell stories. Important stories that no one would hear otherwise.

Matthew Larcey was a literary prodigy, not just to her dad, but to the world. Before he was thirty, he was known as the next Maxwell Perkins and by thirty-five he used that acclaim to start his own publishing house. Jobs there were the only ones Cate applied to during her senior year of college. She started as a production assistant ten days after graduation, and when the position of Matt’s executive assistant opened a year later, she was the first to apply.

Matt’s assistant at the time was a lovely girl from Texas named Eleanor, who tried and failed to suppress her Southern accent. (Cate later learned Matt forbid y’all from conversations. Sign.) She interviewed Cate in a conference room with dull gray walls and two suicide-proof windows that looked out onto Sixth Avenue, forty-nine f lights below. Cate wore her go-to black dress with a leather trim and had prepped in the bathroom a few minutes before: whispering her elevator pitch while applying more mascara; detailing her current responsibilities as an assistant while running some Moroccan oil through her frizzy hair; listing her favorite books while swapping out f lats and a cardigan for heels and a blazer.

Twenty minutes into the interview, Matt Larcey walked in, wearing jeans and an AC/DC T-shirt with a small hole in the neck. Eyes wide, Cate and Eleanor watched him slowly sit down at the opposite side of the long conference table, typing on his phone. Despite having worked there for a year, Cate had never met the company’s founder. He wasn’t good-looking in the traditional sense—he was far too old for Cate anyway—but his salt-and-pepper hair paired with his tailored jeans emitted a kind of effortless power that Cate found enigmatic. She felt reassured knowing he had smile lines. Maybe it meant he wasn’t as difficult as his reputation implied.

Eleanor’s gaze darted to Matt and then back to Cate. “Um, as I was saying—”

“Did you tell her why you’re being replaced?” he interrupted, looking up at them. His phone buzzed against the table four times while Eleanor went as red as the LP on the company’s logo.

“I wasn’t available enough,” she said quietly.

“Be specific.”

Eleanor took a long breath and offered Cate a tight-lipped smile. “I was on vacation and missed an urgent email.”

Cate wanted to crawl under the table and come back when the tension was gone.

“If I’m working, you’re working,” Matt said. “That’s the deal.”

Seems logical, Cate thought. Sign.

“I know why you’re here.” He looked at Cate with an arched brow. “You’re a reader. Right? That’s what your Twitter bio says? You want to publish something that matters. The next great American novel, a book that will change the course of literature forever.”

Eleanor seemed to be shrinking in front of them, getting smaller and smaller with every word.

“If that’s what gets you through the day, great,” Matt continued. “By all means, try to find the next Zadie Smith. If you play by the rules, maybe you will. But there are a lot of others out there who would kill for this job. So don’t think you’ll get any favors. If you earn the book, you’ll get the book. Otherwise it will be you here picking out your own successor.”

When Eleanor appeared at Cate’s cubicle a few weeks later, offering her the job, Cate immediately accepted. Because she was a reader. She did want to find the next great American novel. And, despite its founder’s reputation, Larcey Publishing was the best place to do that.

Exactly two years later, Cate sat at her desk in the forty-ninth f loor bullpen, moving her eyes slowly across the f loor-to-ceiling color-coded bookshelves packed with LP titles, thinking about how she was officially the longest lasting assistant in Larcey’s history. When she had first started, each day she would look up from her desk at the wall of books in awe, like a tourist admiring the Chrysler Building, and dream about the day books she discovered and edited would join those shelves. Now, she had trouble remembering why she wanted to work there so badly in the first place.

She let out a deep breath. A wall of color-coded bookshelves was pretty to look at until you realized how painful it was to put together.

The executive assistants’ desks were located in the EAB, or Elusive Assistant Beau monde, as Cate called it before she got the job with Matt. It actually stood for Executive Assistant Bullpen, but hardly anyone knew that. To Finance they were Evil Annoying Babies; to editors, Eager Ass-kissing Brownnosers; and to Marketing, Expendable Agenda Builders. Whatever they were called, she was one of them. In the center of the rectangular room were two circular velvet couches around a glass coffee table with a bouquet of f lowers Cate was somehow in charge of buying and maintaining each week. Lining the

perimeter of the room were seven desks, perfectly positioned outside each boss’s glass office so that each assistant was always being watched. Like fish in a bowl.

Cate glanced over her shoulder toward the shadows behind the now-curtained glass wall of Matt’s office, listening to the mumbles of the third editor in two months getting fired, and wondered—as they all did at that point—when she should expect the email from HR inviting her to meet them in Matt’s office at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday.

Lucy, the CFO’s assistant, wheeled her chair toward Cate. “Maggie, huh?” she said, folding her long blond hair behind her ears as if that would help her gossip better.

“Seems that way,” Cate responded.

“Do you know what happened? I thought the self-help category was doing well.”

Cate shrugged. “I’m not sure.” She tried to look busy, maximizing and minimizing documents, opening and closing her calendar. Lucy was a great work wife, but she only got the job because her third cousin twice removed was Stephen King’s neighbor or something. This made her a “must hire,” thus untouchable. And Lucy knew it. She was more often found scooting across the bullpen in her white wheelie chair spreading rumors than actually working.

“Of course you know, Cate. You’re probably on the HR email.”

As Matt’s assistant, Cate was on all his emails. About the rounds of golf he planned next week. About every book that each editor wanted to acquire this season. About all the firings. She knew that Maggie, a self-help editor, was being fired for considering a position at Peacock Press. Not only were they Larcey’s main competitor, but Cate once heard a rumor that Matt dated its publisher in college, and she broke up with him in favor of his rugby-playing roommate. Either way, the rivalry seemed personal. They had offered Maggie $10K more and a nearly unlimited budget to acquire all the self-help books she could get her hands on. Cate knew everything. And that power was not something she was about to give up for Lucy. It was all she had.

“I guess self-help isn’t doing as well as we thought,” Cate said.

Before Lucy could reply, Maggie threw open Matt’s door. The entire room started furiously typing as Maggie stomped past the EAB, two suited HR reps scurrying behind her. Lucy picked up the first paper she could find on Cate’s desk and examined it so closely you’d think she’d just discovered the Rosetta Stone.

As soon as Maggie was out of earshot, Lucy said, “God, that was awkward.” She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I heard she’s going to Peacock.”

“Do you really think it’s Peacock?” Spencer Park whispered from his desk. “What, are they trying to poach everyone?”

“Poaching the people you want is more cost-effective than buying a company and paying for all the people you don’t,” Lucy responded. Cate could have sworn Lucy’s head cocked toward Matt’s office for the latter part of that statement.

Lucy returned to her desk and everyone went back to normal until a few moments later, when the heavy glass door behind her opened again. Cate didn’t need to turn around to know it was Matt leaving. Her back might be facing his office all day, but she knew his movements by heart. In the same way, she imagined, he probably knew hers.

Matt moseyed to the front of her desk, moving his worn, expensive leather briefcase from his right hand to his left. He’d been kayaking that weekend, and he always got blisters on his dominant hand when he kayaked. Cate hated that she knew that. “Why are you still here?” he asked, as if his I’m working, you’re working, that’s the deal speech didn’t play on a loop in her head 24/7. As if that wasn’t why she kept her phone on loud all the time, why she woke up panicking in the middle of the night about missing an email, and why she was that girl who showed up to bars on Saturdays hiding her laptop in her purse.

“Just finishing up some work.” Cate glanced at her nearly empty inbox. She was supposed to be on her way to The Shit List, a much-needed weekly vent session with her friends. Instead, she was going to be late. Not that that was unusual for her. If Matt was there, Cate was there, after all.

He looked at Cate, then at the other assistants, all furiously typing again to seem occupied. “Looks like everyone else is working a lot harder than you are right now.”

Well, I’m talking to you, Cate wanted to say. I stopped typing to talk to you.

What actually came out of her mouth was, “Have a good night.”

She watched him walk across the EAB and offer a wave and a smile to three executive assistants standing at the bookshelf, peeling some titles off the wall. “You all work too hard. This place would be in shambles without you,” he said to them before turning the corner toward the elevator bank.

After answering a few more emails, Cate poured some whiskey into her Bitches Get Stuff Done mug, grabbed her Board Meeting Makeup Kit out of the bottom drawer of her desk and walked into the bathroom. She was already going to be fifteen minutes late to The Shit List; what was another fifteen to look presentable and rub some slightly off-colored concealer on the under-eye circles that seemed to grow darker throughout the day?

She had discovered the necessity of a makeup kit on her second day as Matt’s assistant. He had a board meeting, which was one of the only times she saw him in a suit.

“At exactly four fifteen, I need you to come into the meeting and bring me a cup of coffee,” he said. “Just put it in front of me and walk out. Don’t look at me. Don’t look at anyone. Just in and out. And, you know—” he looked her up and down “—look…presentable.”

Cate could feel her cheeks flame as he walked away. She didn’t wear a lot of makeup, but she did always at least look presentable for work.

“Here,” said the CMO’s assistant at the time. She dropped a small pink-and-white Lilly Pulitzer bag on Cate’s desk. “That’s code for put on some makeup.

“I have makeup on.” Cate rubbed her cheek as if the pressure from her fingers could force blush to suddenly appear.

She nudged the bag forward. “Not the kind men notice.”

Reluctantly, Cate unzipped it and inside found one of everything: powder foundation, mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, blush, red lipstick. No variety. Bare minimum to look like the maximum.

“Put it on my desk when you’re done. You should keep a board meeting kit here, too. This won’t be the only time you’ll need it.”

After two years of board, author, and literary agent meetings, dropping things off at home for his kid, picking his wife up in the lobby, and countless other occasions for which Cate was told to “look presentable,” getting ready for margaritas with her friends was the only time she used the kit to show herself off, rather than be shown off.

Happy two-year-work-aversary, Cate thought to herself as she put her makeup bag back in her desk. She took another look at the bookshelf on her way out. Two years too many.

The weekly calendar invite for The Shit List pinged on Cate’s phone as she darted up the Union Square subway staircase. The late May humidity combined with the 6-train rush hour crowd left small beads of sweat on her upper lip and made her curls wild and frizzy. She passed the produce market closing up shop for the night and the men playing chess under the streetlights.

When Cate arrived at Sobremesa, she waved at the hostess and then at their favorite bartender as she beelined past the crowded bar to join everyone at their usual booth in the back. Sobremesa was a strange place: corporate but lowbrow. That was strategic. Find a bar where they were the only group under forty so no one around would recognize their bosses’ names when Lauren said Pete, an Emmy-winning screenwriter, had been avoiding her all day; or Max complained that Richard, a morning news anchor, had stared at her butt for the entire live shoot; or Olivia yelled about Nate, a washed-up actor who refused to realize he was no long relevant. They didn’t need their work gossip on Page Six.

Cate stopped when she saw the three of them in their usual spot, laughing at something Olivia said, a half-empty pitcher of spicy margaritas moving between them. Lauren was squinting through her black-rimmed glasses, always refusing to consider a new prescription until she got promoted and could afford the co-pay. Olivia’s topknot bounced side to side on her head as she spoke enthusiastically with her hands, one of her dramatic tendencies as a budding actress. Max sat in the corner, plucking salt crystals off the rim of her glass and licking them off her pointer finger.

“Wow,” Lauren said when she spotted Cate.

“What?” Cate sank into the booth next to her. Lauren was making too much eye contact, the way she did when she was annoyed. Max poured the remainder of the pitcher into a fourth glass and pushed it toward Cate.

Lauren took a long sip from the tiny straw before saying, “Nice shirt.”

Shit. Cate was wearing Lauren’s top. The black T-shirt she told Lauren she’d wash and return to her closet three wears before. The one that now had semipermanent white deodorant circles under the armpits and was ever so slightly stretched out around the chest to fit Cate’s larger cup size. “Sorry,” she said to Lauren, who would hold a grudge until the freshly cleaned and folded shirt was back in her dresser. It would be at least a month before Cate could borrow anything from Lauren again, which was a bummer because she’d had her eye on a black pleated midiskirt for a date next week.

“Whatever,” Lauren said with a sigh. “Should we just start?” She motioned toward the waitress

and, when she arrived, ordered another pitcher of margaritas in Spanish.

In the center of the table was a small stack of cash to which Cate added her five-dollar contribution. She ripped a napkin into quarters and handed them out, scribbling onto the thin paper, the words bleeding together. I booked Matt’s $37,000 first-class tickets for his family’s Kenyan safari an hour after realizing that unless I get a raise or my student loans disappear into the ether, I can’t afford to go home to Illinois for Thanksgiving for the fourth year in a row. Then she crossed out the latter half. No one she knew could ever afford to leave New York then, which was why the four of them always ended up doing Friendsgiving instead. It wasn’t the same as cooking with her mom and then watching her dad unbutton his pants to fall asleep in his La- Z-Boy in front of the football game, but it was something.

After everyone finished scribbling on their napkins, the storytelling began.

Lauren complained about wheeling an industrial printer covered in blue tarp from the writers’ trailer to Pete’s trailer parked four long city avenues away during a thunderstorm. Then, upon showing up to work drenched, was asked by one of the writers to get coffee for everyone since “she was already wet.”

Olivia had spent an entire day this week trying to sneak into the W Hotel Residences by schmoozing a young security guard so that she could do Nate’s laundry there because he liked the smell of their detergent. “It’s The Laundress,” Olivia said, rubbing her temples as if the mere mention of the brand’s name gave her a headache. “It’s what he uses too. Bought it for him myself. But he insists it’s different.”

Max had to pretend Sheena’s five-year-old son was hers so she could pick up his ADD medication before the anchor’s weekend getaway to a resort in New Mexico. The pharmacist had seemed skeptical, but Max couldn’t return to the newsroom without it. “I made a comment questioning how we still live in a world where young motherhood is challenged,” Max said. The pharmacist had stopped asking questions.

The best part about their four-year friendship, Cate found, was the lack of explanations. They didn’t have to preface names in their stories with “my boss” or “my friend” or “the cashier at my bodega.” They never needed to fill anyone in on what they missed. Because they didn’t miss anything. They knew everything about each other’s lives. Cate knew that Lauren hadn’t brought a guy home in at least a year and hadn’t had sex in at least that long as well. She knew that Olivia rolled her eyes at her Southern Peachtree roots but would secretly perk up whenever a familiar accent was within earshot, reminding her of home. And Cate knew that Max’s parents wielded enough old money power and privilege to get her promoted anywhere, but Max insisted on earning it herself.

Knowing everything about her friends also meant knowing everything about their bosses. Lauren’s boss kept bottles of tequila, whiskey, and gin underneath the couch in his trailer. Cate could tell by looking at a paparazzi photo of Olivia’s boss in People Magazine whether it was a coincidental shot or he had Olivia tip them off about his whereabouts. Cate could recognize by Max’s outfit whether she expected Richard, the handsy morning anchor, to be in the office that day.

Once all the stories were told and the napkin scraps circled the tea light on the table like a strange sacrificial ceremony, Lauren said, “Can I make the executive decision that Olivia wins?” Everyone agreed; folding your boss’s stiff boxers, regardless of how good they apparently smelled afterward, should win you more than twenty dollars.

Cate took the piece of napkin in her hand and looked down at her chicken scratch handwriting. This was her life. These were the things she spent her days doing. It was her two-year anniversary as Matt’s assistant, and the day went on just like any other. Cate wasn’t expecting a cake with her face on it or anything. But some kind of acknowledgment would have been appreciated. Something that said couldn’t do it without you or I hope these two years have been worth it or, at least, a simple thank you.

What did Cate learn about the publishing industry from booking Matt’s vacations? What did she learn by organizing the papers on his desk in alphabetical order? What did she learn from spending a week every November opening up his cabin in Vermont for the season? She did learn that he spent $600 every year on a new Canada Goose coat; that the couch in their basement was incredibly uncomfortable to sleep on; and that his wife kept a dildo in the bottom drawer of her nightstand (but what did Matt expect, sending his poorly-paid assistant to his rich vacation house?).

And what had happened while she’d been 340 miles north, spraying salt all over the cabin’s front walkway? Spencer filled in on Matt’s desk and was asked to “sit in on” three author meetings and one board meeting. She’d met only one author in two years, and the closest she came to board meetings was delivering coffee with strict instructions not to speak. Did anyone tell Spencer to “look presentable”?

For the last two years, Cate had only focused on what was at stake: money, access to stamps for mailing rent checks, free food after author meetings, a foot in the door for her dream job. But it was starting to feel…fine. Uninspiring. Empty. What was she working toward?

Cate took one last look at the napkin before dipping the bottom right corner into the tea light’s f lame. She held it between her fingers, watching Matt Larcey’s name burn in her hand as the text slowly turned to ashes and fell onto the wooden table.

After she swept the ashes to the f loor, Cate held up her margarita. “Here’s to the day when we can make money without doing something degrading.”

Their glasses met in the middle, and Cate looked at her friends, the assistants busting their asses, making the rules from behind the scenes. What if they all got together? What if they called bullshit?

What if they all said no?