When I saw a job opening at Buckeye State of Mind, Jamilah pushed me to apply. I'd moved into her place when I got kicked out of John's.
"You've always loved talking to people and hearing their stories and even making up your own stories," Jamilah told me as we stared at my laptop screen.
"Yeah, but this isn't actually writing for the magazine," I pointed out. "It's social media."
"Which you have experience with!" Jamilah said. "I've seen the Meadow Rise Farm Instagram. Remember that pie picture you posted last week with the caption Rise and Pies'?"
I nodded. "Some of my best work."
My twin sister, Holly, is the one who runs Meadow Rise Farm, because she's one of those infuriatingly self-sufficient people who would probably get along fine if the apocalypse happened. (I, meanwhile, would cease functioning when the Wi-Fi went out.) While she may be great at every aspect of owning and operating a small farm alongside her husband, Darius, she's terrible when it comes to social media. (She thinks TikTok is called "Tic-Tac.") So I offered up my services as the more tech-savvy Grant twin and have been running her Instagram page and updating her website ever since. Not to brag, but I've increased her sales 110 percent by making her farm life(and products) look dreamy and aspirational, as if by buying her custom-made furniture, baked goods, and soap you can pretend you're waking up on the prairie with milkmaid braids, about to make breakfast out of herbs you foraged or whatever. It's all about showing people a vibe, not the reality of running a farm—which is that it's extremely difficult physical work that doesn't offer any time off. Jamilah closed the laptop and put a hand on my arm. "I know you, Laurel, and I know that hanging around this apartment all day is driving you up the wall. You've been trying to find a project, but you're an awful knitter and an even worse baker."
"Some of the cookies I made were edible," I reminded her, thinking of how the week before I'd attempted my mom's classic ginger shortbread recipe, one of the things Holly sells to a local coffee shop, but had burned them so badly that the cookie sheet had been ruined.
"No, babe," Jamilah said gently. "I pretended to eat one to make you feel better, but I actually threw it away. I don't have a death wish."
I gasped in shock.
"You need to get a job, and not only because you're eating all the Pop-Tarts," Jamilah continued. She was a social worker, her passion, and it didn't exactly pay great. She was right; I was a freeloader who needed to start contributing to the Pop-Tart budget. "You need something to do. You're bouncing off the walls."
"I'm doing a thirty-day cardio challenge," I corrected her. "Every morning at six thirty on YouTube."
"I know," Jamilah said. "Shawn downstairs complained about the noise, remember? He said you're keeping his elderly chihuahua awake."
"Maybe his elderly chihuahua needs some aerobic exercise," I suggested, but then I sighed. "Okay, you're right. This job looks... good, actually. Are you sure I'm qualified?"
"Come on," Jamilah said.; "You're Laurel Grant.
And that's how, two days later, I found myself in Gilbert's office, wearing a suit that I'd last worn when I interviewed for a position with John and then immediately started dating him. That won't be happening this time, I reminded myself firmly. This wouldn't be like the time I got fired from my high school job at Wendy's for making out with the fry cook by the dumpster instead of taking drive-through orders. It also wouldn't be like the time I had to quit waiting tables at Chili's because all the other servers accused me of getting the "good" tables just because I was dating the manager.(Strangely enough, said manager kept his job.) This time, I wasn't screwing up my whole life by making a terrible decision just because it sounded fun or made things easier or helped me avoid working the drive-through. This time, I was doing things the right way. This time, I'd maxed out my library card (after paying off the fines that Old Laurel racked up when she checked out and then immediately lost about fifteen Christmas movies on DVD) by checking out every self-help book I could get my innter-truth-seeking little paws on.
I'd passed the point where being unable to hold down a steady job was simply an adorable quirk. In your twenties, it's fun to be kind of a mess—that's why there are so many sit-coms about it. But once you hit your thirties, it starts looking a lot less cute and a lot more "we're worried about you, Laurel." People are more forceful about setting you up with their last single cousin or using their connections to get you a nice, respectable office job. Your continued existence as a flailing woman who doesn't quite know what she wants makes them uncomfortable, and knowing that you're a disappointment to the world at large make you uncomfortable. It's one big burrito filled with layers of regret and frustration and subpar guacamole.
But I had a chance to change things, a chance to show myself that I could do this.
I was getting this job.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book A Beautiful Rival by Gill Paul.