I. RIVER OF VELVET

ESTHER

“And because he loved her…foolishly…selfishly…unreasonably, with no regard for anyone or anything else. He reached out, clenching the hilt of his own sword and drove it through her heart…until the blade pierced through her back and into his own chest, even then it was not enough. He tightened his grip and with the last of his strength, he forced the steel through both of their hearts. And with no final words, not even a final glance, they died. By Diyala River…the end.”

I finished and no one said a word, allowing me to sit down and quietly wipe the tears from my eyes. Inhaling deeply, I stared at the manuscript in my hands.

“Well?” my grandfather asked as he sat up in his chair at the head of the table. He brought his brown, wrinkled hands together and rested his gray-haired chin on them. It was something he always did when he was excited. His brown eyes looked us over as he pushed further. “Any thoughts?”

“It’s beautiful,” I whispered, petting the paper as it were a child.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Howard grumbled as he took the red pen from behind his ear and tossed it onto the manuscript. “It’s the same as the last book, hell, all of his books are exactly the same.”

“They are not.” I snapped back.

“They kinda are,” Li-Mei added flipping her bleach-blonde hair over her shoulder. When I glared at her she placed her hand over her heart. “Don’t get me wrong! I love, I mean love his books, but they’re all kind of the same at this point. When I pick up a Malachi Lord novel I’m doing it because I want my feelings to be wretched and to have a good ugly cry. I’m not expecting something else.”

“See—”

“Let me clarify.” My grandfather cut Howard off before he dared to speak another blasphemous word. “Will this new novel outsell his last novel?”

“No,” Howard said confidently. “Because he has devoted readers like you two, he’ll sell the same amount of copies.”

“He picks up new readers each time he publishes a book!” I reminded him.

Howard rolled his hazel eyes at me. “And loses readers with each new book…”

“He—”

“Correction.” He cut me off. “He doesn’t lose readers, it’s more that they’re slow to buy or even read his books now for the same reason Li-Mei said; they need to be in the mood for another heartbreak novel. They know how it will end so they put off reading. If we published…” He glanced down at the title page but there wasn’t one. It just said By Malachi Lord.

“River of Velvet.” I titled it.

“Oooh…nice! I like it,” Li-Mei whispered to herself with a smile.

“River of Velvet. Catchy. Good for next year’s Valentine’s Day release.” Grandpa nodded to himself.

“I guess we’re going forward…” Howard said and I could feel him getting ready to piss all over my cheerios. “Valentine’s Day, where he’ll sell just about the same amount of copies, give or take a couple thousand, end up on all the usual lists, maybe another B-movie deal, then never read or spoken about again, with the exception of Esther.”

“Yes, fine. You and the other 1.5 million fans—”

“Two million fans.” I cut in looking to my grandpa. “Every day I get dozens of messages from fans all over the world. If your question is ‘will he sell?’ The answer is yes because he always sells. Even if he wrote a dinner menu I’d buy it and read. We all know and have met authors and aspiring authors that would kill for his success.”

“Howard.” Li-Mei coughed, unsubtly poking fun at Howard’s novel…the one he’s been writing apparently since the Stone Age. Howard glared and I smiled as she reached for Penohxi Publishing House mug. “Sorry, you were saying?”

I loved her.

“Then it’s settled.” Grandpa nodded as he leaned back and adjusted his ascot. Yes, his I’m-sophisticated ascot, before giving us our marching orders. “Howard, have sales print two thousand less than normal.”

“Two thousand?” I frowned.

Howard grabbed his pen and nodded to himself. “That way if he doesn’t surpass the normal amount we aren’t stuck giving out less. And if he does for some strange reason we could use that as a marketing ploy…yeah okay. Any luck with getting him to do the signed copies?”

“Keep dreaming.” Grandpa laughed before looking to his left. “Li-Mei, production is key for this. Everything from the front cover to the actual page headers should have that middle-eastern/Arabian nights feel to it. Esther, promotion, promotion, promotion. I want the hype for this book to be like the second coming.”

Nodding, I tried not to cringe at the fact that my grandfather just used the word “hype.”

“How soon should I start marketing? I actually think we should start a week before Valentine’s Day.”

“Hmm…why?” He stroked his beard as he watched me.

“Half of the Valentine’s Day readers want something sweet to have that lovey-dovey feel. So they might buy it and read it later. A week after Valentine’s Day people are annoyed with anything pink or red and they rather ready a mystery or a thriller. But in the week before we get those who are excited for romance. They want that gut-wrenching love story, plus we’ll also get the Singles Appreciation Day crowd—”

“The what?”

“The single people unable to find another person to buy them chocolate and tell them how beautiful they are so they stay home drinking wine, listening to their old-school Chinese mother yell about how all other mothers are sending out wedding invites for their daughters but all you talk about is work….” Li-Mei rambled off and I kicked her foot.

“Anyway, it’s just a better week, I think. What about your sales?” I looked to Howard.

“Six months is pushing it but we can get it done,” he replied, his hazel eyes focused solely on me, a small smile on his lip. “But on the marketing and foreign distribution side, it will be tight. I know how meticulous you are with this author.”

“I got it.” I nodded. “I’ll start today if that’s okay with you.”

Grandpa pursed his lips to the side. “Fine but don’t step on Shannon’s toes, marketing is her department, not yours. Make sure to clear everything with her even though she’s away.”

I wanted to remind him that since I was his granddaughter—aka the heir to the Penohxi Publishing House—I technically worked in all departments like he did. But I simply gave him a two-finger salute. “Yes, sir. I know.”

“Good. Bring them in.” He tapped the glass right in front of him.

Rising, we all put our manuscripts on the table and only then were we allowed to pick up our cellphones and tablets from the center of the table.

The reason there were only four us, five if you counted Shannon Kelly who was currently on maternity leave, was because of what happened last year with Malachi Lord’s novel being leaked online. My grandfather, Alfred Benjamin Noëlle, was a calm and simple man. He liked fishing, listening to old records, reading by the lake, and in the twenty-two years I’d been alive, I’d never heard him curse once. But that day, if we were being recorded live in a studio the number of expletive bleeps that would have been needed would have put any rapper to shame. And because of that incident, he’d structured this new protocol whereby each major author got a certain group comprised of someone from each department who would read the paper copied manuscript in the conference room only once and never again unless they worked with editing or translation like I did.

“Li-Mei Zhou!”

She nearly jumped out of her skin and tripped over her chair when my grandfather called her name. Her brown eyes grew wider because no one ever called her full name outside of her parents and grandmother, let alone yell it like he did.

“Sir…”

He snickered to himself grinning like an old cat. “Do you enjoy working here?”

“Yeah… I mean. Yes, sir. I do.” She stood straighter and spoke much more seriously.

“Then don’t worry about your mother. Just keep reminding her you’re happy. I’m sure there’s some lucky person out there for you.”

“Thank you, sir.” She must have fallen into default mode hearing her name called like that because she even gave him a respectful bow before moving to the door. Howard held the door for me waiting but I shook my head and he glanced between my grandfather and me and took the hint to leave.

“Aww grandpa you’re so sweet.” I teased as I skipped over to him.

“Either you want something or you did something.” He crossed his arms waiting. “Out with it.”

“Why aren’t you sweet to me? You do realize it’s going to be me taking care of you when you’re old right?”

“I’m already old.” He frowned at me as I leaned on the back of the seat.

“Psshh…you don’t look a day over seventy-five.” I waved him off.

“I shouldn’t! I’m seventy-three!”

Seeing him snap at me so quickly made laugh which made him frown again before laughing too.

“See don’t you just love me?” I leaned in with a grin.

“What do you need, Esther?”

I didn’t need anything but I wasn’t sure how to say it.

“Whatever it is you can tell me…unless you’re thinking about moving in with that boy.”

I froze, staring at him as he stuffed the manuscripts into his bag.

“You know?”

“The whole house knows, with the boy making goo-goo eyes at you all the time it’s so obvious I’m insulted you thought I was stupid enough to not notice.”

“Accept my apologies then,” I said with a sigh.

Howard and I were dating. That was supposed to be my big reveal and he just went and gutted it. We’d been dating for about a year since I’d started working here actually.

“Accept my rejection then.”

“What?”

“If you want to date him that’s your business but no granddaughter of mine is shacking up with anyone!” he replied standing to his feet.

“Grandpa!”

“Esther!” He mocked and I should have learned not to do that by now.

I sighed. “Grandpa, I’m twenty-two. I’m not asking for permission, I’m asking for—”

“Help.” He cut in as he stood in front of me and placed his hands on my shoulders. “Howard is twenty-eight, he’s pretty much settling down, ready to enclose you in his white picket fence, which would be okay if that was what you wanted. But if you wanted that, Esther, you would have told me about him, and if he was the right one he would have told me himself—”

“I told him not to.”

“It doesn’t matter, peanut. He still should have been man enough to do so. Lastly, if you really wanted this you would have started off with ‘Grandpa, I love him.’ Not ‘Grampa, I’m twenty-two.’”

I opened my mouth to say the words but nothing came out. Why were three little words so hard to say? I wasn’t even looking at Howard and I still couldn’t say it.

“I’ll be the bad guy alright?” He patted my shoulder. “You told me and I said no. Besides, who else is going to take care of me when I’m old if you moved out?”

I snickered. “You’re already old.”

He gasped letting go of my shoulders. “How dare you? I’ll have you know I don’t look a day over seventy-five.”

I laughed and he flicked my nose. He didn’t say anything else about the matter, he simply walked towards the door and held it open for me.

“Now get back out there and earn my money.”

“Oh back to boss-mode. Sure-sure. I’m going,” I said as I grabbed my things and walked towards the door. “I’ll even walk you to your office old man.”

“I remember when your legs would wobble like a giraffe and you’d fall onto your bottom and sit there confused and crying.” He shook his knees outside the office for everyone to see.

“Grandpa!” I grabbed his arm.

“Esther!” He mocked again.

Tightening my grip on him I walked faster, pulling him along which caused him to snicker like he always did. Expect this time his snickering was interrupted by a cough. He coughed so badly we had to stop for a second and I broke apart a little just staring at him.

“Don’t give me that look…ahuh!” He coughed once more as he rubbed his throat.

“What look?”

“That.” He pointed to his long slim finger directly between my eyes. “Your big, brown, sad puppy dog eyes like I’m going somewhere. Come on, you’re walking me, ain’t you?”

“We’re here,” I said and like the hostess of Wheel of Fortune I lifted my hands and directed his attention to the glass door with his name etched onto it. “I’ll get back to earning my paycheck now. Namaste, Rafi.” I nodded my head and clasped my hands together as my grandfather’s personal assistant, Rafi Patel, rushed to the door wearing his classic suspenders and bow tie, which upon first hearing it you’d think was kind of dorky, but the moment you saw his muscular build, hazel eyes, and his half-million Instagram followers, you’d want a pair of green and white striped suspenders too.

“Namaste, Esther. Sir, your coffee…”

“Coffee?” I looked to my grandfather. “Your doctor told you to cut caffeine.”

“It’s decaf.” Rafi tried to save him. “Plus it’s actually more milk than coffee so no doctors were bribed while I got this.”

“Shoo! Go, leave me, my coffee, and my assistant, in peace.”

I put my hand up and backed away causing Rafi to laugh as they walked into his massive, glass corner office. Inside, every award he’d won from the Oscars to the Tonys hung on the wall. Not to mention the signed first copies of all his authors, and the photos; him marching for Civil Rights when he was young as well as his filming awards he had won all over the world. Every time stepped inside that office my grandfather disappeared and the gravitas of who he was—Alfred Benjamin Noëlle, the famed writer, filmmaker, producer, director, activist, philanthropist, and icon—truly hit me.

      ‘Bye.’ Rafi mouthed and clasped his hands together, nodding his head to me once before clicking the remote that caused the glass walls to frost over making it impossible to see into his office.

“You speak Hindi too?” Li-Mei rolled out from behind her desk in the center of the office. The hive we called it…because it was actually designed to look like a hive, thankful it wasn’t bright yellow, but made of glass.

“Hindi, Mandarin, Turkish, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian…keep in mind where still in Asia!” Howard smiled as he came over hand and handed me a bottle of iced tea.

“Wo de tian na!” (Oh my god!) Li-Mei exclaimed as her mouth dropped opened. “How did I not know that? Honestly, I’m kinda hurt. Impressed, but hurt.”

“Yīzhǒng yǔyán yǒngyuǎn bùgòu.” (One language is never enough.) I shrugged smiling as Howard looked at us, waiting for a translation but I simply drank my tea.

“Guys…what did you say?”

“Aren’t you part Chinese? How do you not know even the simplest Mandarin?” Li-Mei grinned and slid back behind her desk and popped a green cake pop from her Gwen Stefani Harajuku jar into her mouth.

“First of all, I’m half Japanese, half German. Secondly, I know neither languages because my parents were born and raised here in New York. Luckily, maybe my girlfriend will teach me,” he said proudly while I choked mid-swallow causing me to cough so hard I had to grip the edge of Li-Mei’s desk.

“You—”

“I’m fine,” I said quickly glaring at him. “Excuse us, Li-Mei.”

“Don’t mind me I’ll be here pretending to not be interested,” she replied chewing the cake in her mouth.

Ignoring her, I walked towards the conference room we’d just left and over towards the window that overlooked the Brooklyn Bridge.

“You can’t go around saying that.” I hollered at him the moment he closed the door.

“Saying what? That you’re my girlfriend? Everyone knows, Esther—”

“That’s not the point. This is work.”

“Come on? How long are you going to play the ‘we’re at work’ card?—”

“For as long as we’re at work!” I clasped my mouth shut trying not yell. “Everyone knows that I’m here because of my grandfather—”

“It’s been a year. Everyone can see you aren’t some entitled brat. The fact that there is now a foreign distribution floor and not a foreign rights desk is mostly because of you.”

“Exactly! There is more on my plate now. More I want to do—”

“And being my girlfriend impedes that how?”

I stopped unsure of how to reply. And so, like an idiot, I stared at Howard—the Yale grad, the golden boy from a good family, the Mr. Nice Guy who had been sweet, kind, and patient, who was allergic to cats but still left food out for his neighbor’s when it came over, the guy who was staring at me waiting for an answer that I owed him but was too much of a chicken to say

“Esther, are we breaking up? Is that what’s happening?”

I put my hands behind my back and hung my head. “I don’t know…sorry no… I mean…I’m… yeah. I don’t want to move in. I don’t want to settle down. There are so many things I need to do and I need to do them in my own space.”

“I’m sorry too.” He sighed, walked over to me and wrapped me in his arms while I stood there. “I shouldn’t have rushed you. We’ll keep taking things slow, okay?”

When he pulled back I was too dumbfounded to speak so I just nodded.

“Good. I’ll see you later.” He kissed my lips quickly then turned around and walked out.

I walked out towards the hive as he walked towards the elevator to go down to his floor and placed my bag on the desk.

“Did you break up?” she asked sitting up and handing me a cake pop.

“I don’t know.” I frowned as I took it and sat down slowly.

She came around and leaned on my desk. “What do you mean you don’t know? One usually know these things.”

“Apparently not. Should I be happy or sad?” I asked taking a bite, and the moment I did I wanted the whole velvet cake. “This is good and I should be happy, right?”

“Rule of thumb, if you have to ask whether or not you’re happy, you’re not.” She sat up and then sighed dramatically. “But what do I know? I’m just a twenty-eight-year-old single woman in New York.”

“Successful.” I added with a smile. “You are a successful, beautiful, single woman in New York.”

“Right?” She grinned. “Look at this skin? Not a blemish anywhere. And not a single student debt is left for me to pay off…I even like my apartment.”

“We are not worthy.” I bowed to her and she laughed.

“I like you, Noëlle.”

Grinning I put my hand over my chest. “Aww, thank you but my love life is already complicated—”

“Shut up.” She giggled, shaking her head as she looked on her laptop screen and I did the same though I couldn’t really focus.

For some reason I felt like I was missing something. Like there was this big blind spot in myself and the more I tried to figure it out the blinder I became. When I looked around, everyone at Penohxi Publishing House seemed to have their head on straight. Everyone was talented, the best of the best. English and Humanities majors from Ivy League schools, with larger-than-life dreams. Then there was just me, Esther Noëlle. My only two skills were reading comparison and languages. I know that alone was great. I knew I most people barely spoke two. However, I always felt like…like I wasn’t whole. Like I wasn’t really living but merely going through the motions. Whenever I wanted to go I found myself staying put like I was waiting…waiting for what though?

Li-Mei was twenty-eight and after graduating from Princeton she backpacked all across Europe taking the most breathtaking photos, of which she later published in multiple magazines before joining us only two weeks ago. She was single but not because she was too busy traveling or too beautiful, but because she was searching for the one. She had almost everything she wanted and her life as all laid out for her.

Rafi Patel, my grandfather’s personal assistant, was a recent film graduate who’d won the honor to shadow and be mentored by my grandfather for a year. Penohxi was created only twenty-three years ago and my grandfather’s dream to bring more diverse stories and backgrounds to the forefront of entertainment had exploded faster than even he’d expected. We were now ranked alongside Google and Facebook as one of the happiest places to work. Working here was every English Major’s dream job, and to get here you needed to be the best.

But I didn’t go to any Ivy League, instead, I went to NYU.

I got avenge grades: A’s and B’s.

I’d never traveled anywhere outside of New York, California, and New Jersey. And those were with all for work with my grandfather when I was younger. Everywhere I looked people all around me had a goal they were running towards and I was just following my grandfather.

You’ve got FanMail!

The crown icon on my computer screen blinked.

“I wish,” I muttered to myself as I opened it and read AngstLover4Lord’s message.

Dear Mr. Lord,

      First off your name is so cool! Has anyone every told you that?

“Yeah like almost every other day,” I replied softly still reading.

I know you like to keep a low profile and I’m not even sure if this message will get to you but I just needed to tell you…your book changed my life. Seriously, I’ve always been so depressed and being shy makes it hard for me to speak up most times. But after reading ‘Smile at Her’ and ‘Duchess of Hope’ I realized how fleeting life can be and why we need to speak or die with our words. Today some girls at school were trying to get me to do their homework for them again. When I told them no, you should have seen their faces. It’s a small step but I’m sure by the time I go to college next year I’ll have it down pat like Duchess of Marina. Thank you and never stop writing. I’ll always keep reading.

      Your #1 fan from Austria,

      Franziska.

“Wow.” I had to fight back tears. I was a crybaby, yeah, I know, but it was so sweet, and I completely understood her.

I wanted to reply to her personally and let her know that I’d gotten her message and would send it off but I’d be here all day if I tried to reply to his letters. Instead, the email sent out the automated message which read:

Thank you for taking the time to write to Malachi Lord and for being such an amazing fan of his work. He truly enjoys getting these messages! We will forward it and I’ll let you know when he’s gotten it. Until then, join us at Lord Nation where fellow fans can share their love, support and overall thoughts of each novel.

      Esther Noëlle,

      Translation Editor.

      Penohxi Publishing House.

      Lord Nation Creator/Blogger.

“Hold the elevators!” I jumped at the sound of Rafi’s voice, and I rose to my feet as he ran towards the door after my grandfather.

“Grandpa?” I called out but he wasn’t listening. I wasn’t even sure he’d seen me. With his ear to the phone, he put his jacket on and got into the elevator. Rafi tried to get on after him but he shook his head.

“Rafi, what is it?” I asked as he rushed back to the hive and reached for the projector’s remote to turn on the television so that it would reflect on the glass of my grandfather’s office.

On screen we watched as a tall man with what looked like a tire iron broke the glass window of silver BWM, which was one of at least a dozen cars involved in the accident but it didn’t look like New York.

Smoke was coming out of the car and he pulled and pulled until the door budged open, then he lifted an elderly woman out of the car like bloody Superman. The camera zoomed in on his ashy, bloody, scratched up face as he yelled for help.

“What’s wrong with the volume?” Rafi banged the remote on his hand until he turned to us frustrated. “Forget about that. Guys, that’s Malachi Lord!”

“Shut up!” I yelled as we all moved in closer to see.

“He’s bloody hot man!” Diane gasped and then giggled. “I thought he was some old geezer who your grandfather knew, Esther.”

“Yeah,” I whispered staring at the replay over and over again unable to take my eyes off him. He wasn’t hot…he was…beautiful. And to say that as he was bruised, cut up, and sweaty made me wonder what he looked like every day. It made me wonder if his eyes really were that blue.

“LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!”

“Ah!” Everyone covered our ears as the volume blasted on.

“Sorry!” Rafi said quickly turning it down enough for us to hear the anchor speak.

“As you can see, Malachi Lord, the award-winning and best-selling poet and novelist, who has all but avoided the public eye, refusing, interviews, photos, even signings, leaped to the aid of an elderly woman who was trapped in her car. We have reports that despite the fact that he appeared fine during this ordeal, he fell unconscious due to the injuries he’d sustained only seconds after the video feed was cut. He was transferred to a local hospital where he is reportedly in a stable condition.”

“How do they know it’s him?” Leon asked as he chewed on the back of his pen. “I mean, come on? Romance novelist by day, superhero stud…also by day?”

Before all of us could speak our phones started to ring or beep.

It was a good question…a question everyone wanted to know. And the only two people who knew for sure if the man on screen was Malachi Lord, was Malachi Lord himself, and my grandfather, his agent, and publisher.

“I have Reader’s Digest on the line asking if it’s really him!”

“We say Penohxi Publishing House does not disclose any private information about our authors unless authorized to do so by said authors,” I said as they moved to their desks. “Say it over and over again like canaries until you’re either sick of answering the phones and tweeting or you clock out for the day.”

They all stared at me and I didn’t realize why until Rafi handed me a tissue. “You okay?”

I blinked a few times and sure enough water was coming out of my eyes and I had no idea why. This always seemed to happen!

“Yeah.” I wiped my face quickly and tried to deflect. “So does anyone have a better idea?”

“We’re canaries.” Rafi nodded as he answered his phone and in a heavy Indian accent and repeated what I’d said. Everyone did so with the exception of Li-Mei, who instead of answering calls was making them. She’d dial, lift it to her ear, hang up and dial again. Panicked she started to shake as she ran her hands through her blonde hair. Her beloved velvet cake pops lay on the ground crumbled and broken.

“Li-Mei? What is it?”

She pointed to an old woman being pulled out the car. “The woman he’s carrying. That’s my mom!”


See you all next weekend for chapters 3 & 4

Please Remember “Malachi and I” is an original story of J.J. McAvoy, shared on this blog by J.J. McAvoy. Copying, duplicating, printing, publishing in any form of media including web, manipulating, transmitting or reproducing without the prior written permission of J.J.McAvoy is strictly forbidden and would constitute a breach of copyright.

NULLA. Poison Apples

July 23, 2017

II. PAIN AND NOVOCAINE

July 23, 2017

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2 Comments on "I. RIVER OF VELVET"

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Anna
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Wow so good! And omg SO MUCH DIVERSITY I LOVE IT!!! Can’t wait for next week’s update 🙂

Yohonna Amphy
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OMG I have to wait till next week you sure know how to get people hooked. I’m so in love with this already.

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