Home > In Other Words, Love

In Other Words, Love
Author: Shirley Jump

One


   Before she even learned how to create the curve of a C and the sticks of an L, Kate Winslow was creating her own world of stories in her head. She’d hold the books she brought home from the library, the musty smell sweet and familiar, and imagine her own name across the cover, her picture on the back. When she got older, she’d write little epilogues of her favorite books, just to keep the characters with her, long after the stories had been tucked back into the library’s shelves.

   She’d dreamed of being an author, but never imagined it would turn out like this.

   In the back corner of her favorite bookstore, the self-satisfied smirk of a race car legend stared back at Kate from the cover of Why I’m a Winner, written by Gerard Phillips. A Clearance: 40% Off sticker covered the last part of the word Winner, and a fine layer of dust sat on the stack of a few dozen marked-down books.

   “Legend” was a bit of a misnomer, considering Gerard, the Indy 500 winner ten years ago, was more of a legend in his own mind. His mustached grin didn’t say that, nor did the inflated story inside that he’d insisted on having Kate craft.

   Ghostwriting his autobiography had been a tedious yearlong project. He had been a nightmare to work with, demanding revision after revision, until Kate had considered quitting. In the end, the fact that the electric company really liked to get paid had won out, and Kate swallowed her frustration and finished the job.

   For a second, she closed her eyes and imagined her name on the cover, her face on the back of the book. Her own book—not one she’d ghostwritten and couldn’t tell a single soul about because of a non-disclosure agreement. She was thirty-eight, and no closer to her dream of publishing her own novel today than when she’d been little.

   Instead, she was living in a second-floor walkup with an overly spoiled rescue cat, writing nauseatingly untrue books for divas. Not exactly the success she’d imagined.

   “Kate Winslow? Is that you?”

   Kate jerked to attention and turned around. Behind her stood Loretta Wildwood: tall, blonde and thin, one of those women who excelled at everything she did. They’d been in the same creative writing classes in college many years ago and had even ended up in a critique group that had met in the student lounge twice a week. Kate remembered Loretta being competitive but talented, which had made Kate both try harder and kind of resent Loretta at the same time. After school, their paths had diverged and Kate, busy keeping her head above water and the bills paid, had lost track of her classmates. Partly due, Kate was sure, to the fact that Trent MacMillan had broken her heart five minutes after she’d gotten her degree. So yeah, there was that.

   “Loretta, so great to see you,” Kate said, because it was the truth. The more Kate worked, the more her world narrowed, and she realized she missed those critique sessions and the energetic exchanges over phrases and plots. “How are you?”

   “Wonderful.” Loretta beamed, then reached into the pale blue Kate Spade tote bag over her shoulder and pulled out a slim piece of paper. “Here, you can get one early and I can even sign it for you, since we know each other.”

   “One what?” Kate asked. Then she glanced at the paper in her hands. Loretta’s face bloomed on the bright card stock bookmark, right below a book cover for a thriller Kate had vaguely noticed in a face-front display at the front of the store. “This is your book?”

   “Of course it is.” Loretta laughed. “Thanks for coming to my book signing. It really is so nice of you to celebrate my success.”

   Kate swallowed hard. “Book signing?”

   Loretta shifted her stance just enough for Kate to see the sign behind her. Kate had been so absorbed in the misery of seeing one of her own books on the clearance shelf that she’d failed to notice the banner, a blown-up replica of the bookmark. Join New York Times bestselling author Loretta Wildwood for the launch of her latest book!

   Bestselling author? Latest book? That implied more than one. Kate’s chest tightened. Loretta had achieved every one of Kate’s dreams, and the evidence of it stood right next to Kate’s failure. “I didn’t know. Uh, congratulations.”

   “Thank you.” Loretta leaned forward and tapped Kate’s arm. She put on a bright, inquisitive look, as if they were best friends. “So tell me, where are your books? I’d love to see what you’ve published since we graduated.”

   Kate moved a step to the right, blocking the cover of Gerard’s flop, which was kind of silly, considering no one knew she had written it. I’m writing books that fulfill other people’s dreams so I can pay for cat food and rent. Meanwhile, my own novel sits in my computer, unread and unloved. “I’ve mostly written nonfiction. I have a few books out.”

   Loretta turned to the left, then right, scanning the headers on the bookshelves. “Really? Tell me a couple of titles. I’ll buy one or two. We authors need to stick together. Am I right or am I right?”

   “My books, uh, don’t have my name on the cover.” Kate swallowed hard and pushed out the truth. “I’m a ghostwriter, and my identity is always kept secret. It’s part of the deal.”

   Loretta put a hand over her mouth and let out a little gasp, as if Kate had just announced the end of the world. “Oh, my. I could never do that. All my hard work, hidden behind someone else’s name? That’s…” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry.”

   She said it like she was at Kate’s funeral. Given the sinking royalties Kate received every quarter, maybe funeral was an apt description. She glanced at Gerard’s clearance book again. Seeing his name as the author—and knowing he hadn’t written a single word—smarted, she wasn’t going to lie. At least to herself.

   “Don’t be sorry. I really love my job,” Kate said with a smile she had to fake. In the last couple of years, her job had become more and more frustrating. Her agent had landed her a couple of decent deals, but the income was dropping every year while the workload stayed the same. “It’s flexible, and I get to meet lots of great people.” Like diva drivers, snooty heiresses, and overconfident businessmen.

   “That’s…wonderful.” Uncertainty wavered in Loretta’s face. “Well, I need to get to my signing. Don’t want to keep my public waiting.” She placed a business card in Kate’s hand. “Let’s have coffee sometime. Call me when your book comes out and I’ll be first in line to get a copy!” Then she spun on her Michael Kors heels and trotted over to the table and chairs set up beside the mystery section.

   Kate resisted the urge to stick out her tongue at Loretta’s retreating figure. Call me when your book comes out. Her own book? Kate was never going to have that. As she watched her ghostwriting income drop, she’d started sending out her resume to marketing agencies and a few struggling newspapers. Writing her own book was a pipe dream that would probably never happen, not unless she met some rich patron of the arts, assuming those still existed.

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