“I’m not sure that business meetings in bars are ever the sort that end well,” Stuart says.
“Stuart, you work here. Technically every transaction you make is a business meeting.” Sheldon flicks a finger over his iPad, checking the time. Two more minutes. She’s not late… yet.
Stuart snaps the cloth he’s using to dry shot glasses at Sheldon. “So I should start charging you for conversation time now?” His expression goes from playful to serious in an instant. “I mean it… you might not think that anything too dangerous goes down in a karaoke-slash-stand-up-comics’ bar, but I had to call the cops last month when someone tried to break a wine bottle over Leslie’s head.”
“I’m not sure that that wouldn’t be a public service. I’ve heard her sing.”
“Settle down. You do realize I’m armed, right?”
Sheldon raises an eyebrow. Stuart threatens Sheldon’s iPad with the soda gun. Sheldon takes the hint and departs for a drier climate: one of the booths not far from the elderly jukebox that Stuart doggedly maintains he’ll never sell.
There’s a woman feeding quarters into the jukebox, punching buttons until, Sheldon thinks, she must have queued up at least half an hour’s worth of music. He’s not the type to sit and stare, but he does appreciate the way her jeans cling to her ass and the way her blonde hair cascades unfettered down her back, between her fine shoulderblades. She moves her head a little and he sees a tattoo partially hidden by her hair; squinting tells him it’s a tiny pretty pair of angel wings.
He looks down at his right hand and the quill pen etched there. Maybe if she is going to hang around for a while, they can trade ink stories at some point.
She turns away from the jukebox and, as what Sheldon recognizes from his sister’s CD collection to be Shania Twain starts playing, picks up a red binder from one of the other tables and walks toward him.
She sits down without waiting to be invited. “I’m Penny. Your editor,” she elaborates when he gapes at her. “I happened to be in the area and I thought we should meet in person.”
“Oh,” is all Sheldon can manage. Then, “Can I get you a drink?”
(thirty seconds later, midway through “That Don’t Impress Me Much”)
“I think this will end just fine.” Sheldon can’t keep the smile off his face.
Stuart looks over at the booth again. “Damn. You’d better hope Leslie doesn’t come in early. She’d eat that girl for breakfast.”
Sheldon keeps smiling. “Do you think she’s into red or white wine?”
(as Penny is mouthing “John Wayne. Whatever!” along with the jukebox)
“I’m more of a Scotch girl, but I guess when it’s business…” Penny tilts her wineglass against his. “Salud.”
“So, what did you think of the first ten chapters?”
Penny puts down her wine and flips open the binder, sliding her glasses up on her nose. “I’m not sure where to start…”
“Do you think it has series potential? I was toying with the idea of a sequel, and then I thought—”
“Mr. Cooper,” Penny interrupts him, “the company picked you up on the basis of your first novel’s success.”
“However, we’re finding that your second novel doesn’t live up to that success.”
She keeps going, talking about his abuse of semicolons, his overuse of the passive voice, the frustrating way that the story shifts point of view without clear indicators, what she describes as his “heinous abuse” of dialogue tags, and she drives every single point home with at least one example from her binder, which contains a printout of the first ten chapters practically bathed in red ink.
When she’s done, Sheldon is pretty sure that the only thing she hasn’t criticized is his choice of font. (Palatino.)
“Now, I’m willing to work with you on these issues, but you have to understand that we have certain standards and the fact that you won an award for your first novel doesn’t excuse you from meeting those standards.” She crosses her legs and lifts her wine to her lips, drinking slowly, watching him.
Sheldon’s already screamed his way out of one career. Penny looks like she damn knows and is just waiting for him to make it two.
“Why couldn’t they have sent me a nice editor?” he grouses.
Penny’s lips quirk into a smile. “I am the nice editor. You should have heard what Barry said about your comma splices.”
Sheldon sighs. “I suppose you’re going to tell me anyway.”
“Yes.” Penny inclines her head toward the jukebox. “I did bet the rest of the team that you’d walk out after ten minutes. You’ve made it twelve, if I’ve judged my song lengths right.”
“What do we win?”
Her smile widens into a grin. “I win twenty bucks. You win the privilege of explaining to me why you thought you were such a special snowflake that you didn’t adhere to house style right from page one.”
Penny taps the page with her pen. “Do you think I don’t know the difference between Times New Roman and Palatino?”
(while Lady Gaga is informing the bar at large that she is not bluffing with her muffin, and the only poker face in the room is Penny’s)
“She says she’s a Scotch girl. What’s the best you’ve got?”
Stuart takes in the look on Sheldon’s face and the way that his hands are shaking, and pours him a shot of something that Sheldon dutifully drinks without questioning.
“Either you’re terrified of her, or you’re in love,” Stuart observes as he brushes dust off a bottle and cracks the seal.
The quill on Sheldon’s finger curls around the glass as he pulls it toward himself. “Who says it has to be one or the other?”