“That’s the girl,” I whispered to Ant, using my chin to point at an event tent across the harbourfront. “And that guy behind her is the manager, the one who interviewed me.”
“Really? I didn’t picture him to look like that at all.”
“I told you, he’s all tall and spindly. Kind of looks like Voldemort, without the weird face.”
“That’s right,” Ant said acknowledging the man wearing the exact same grey golf shirt he wore when we’d met briefly a month prior. The man turned away from us to arrange the display of books behind him. “So are you going to go say hello?”
Poor naive Ant, thinking I could be so normal. Play it cool. That just wasn’t my style. I shook my head. “No. But I do want to support them. Could you please go over to their tent and buy me their $5 mystery book bag?”
He agreed and took the crumpled $5 bill I handed him from my purse. I turned down another walkway, but made sure I could still see the booth. I watched Ant approach my former classmate as she adjusted her black ponytail beneath her Phalacrocorax Press hat.
“Can I help you?” Asked the girl sitting within the booth I was standing in front of, startling me. I flashed her a polite smile, shook my head and feigned interest in the Canadian literary magazines she had sprawled across her booth. I picked one up to examine it for a second, then promptly set it back down and wandered a little further down the path.
Wedged between two event tents now, I had to crane my neck to see Ant. He was talking to the manager. They were laughing. I felt a pang of regret for not knowing the man. After all, he had offered me my first entrance into the publishing world; a full time 3 month internship at his tiny independent press paying $1500 total.
I’d wanted that internship so badly, from the second I’d read the job posting. The entire thing was riddled with subtle light-hearted jokes. I’d matched their tone perfectly on my cover letter, the best cover letter I’ve ever written. I’d wanted the internship even more when we scheduled my interview, and I bought a back list book of theirs to prepare a sample social media campaign. I even fell in love with the book.
But I’d wanted the internship most of all the day of the interview. I’d marched into their cramped Chinatown office in my lucky green dress, black leather pumps clacking confidently on the uneven floor planks. I’d talked to them animatedly, albeit still a little shy, but a strong, capable version of my shy self. I liked who I was in that office. I left that interview aching to get to know my three interviewers better, wanting to be a part of their tight-knit team so badly. The three of them, along with the main publisher, ran an entire publishing press. I loved that.
When I found their offer in my junk mail folder at midnight a few nights later, it wrecked any plans I had of sleeping through that night. I was so excited, so anxious to respond. It just felt right. It felt like quitting my full time job and going back to school had been the right decision. When morning finally appeared, accepting that internship was the highlight of my year.
Now I was the creepy girl watching their booth at a literary festival from a mile away. I never saw that coming. It felt like a bad break up. Like I was stalking an ex, not that I’ve ever done that before…
“Were they nice?” I asked Ant upon return, as he handed me the brown paper bag filled with five surprise books.
“Yeah,” Ant nodded. “They seemed a little frazzled. I guess the book fair’s been busy all day.”
“And she was nice?”
“Yeah, she was fine.”
But she hadn’t been nice nor fine. Not when word got out at school that I’d beaten out her and another classmate for the internship. But of course I’d been offered the internship instead of them! I just knew I belonged there. And the interviewers knew it too. Yet there she was now. Running the booth where I should have been.
“Let’s go home,” Ant said as we approached the festival exit. “I have work to do.”
“Me too,” I agreed, as we turned our backs to the festival.
When I’d accepted the internship, I’d had no idea that a leading academic publisher would be calling me that same afternoon for a surprise phone interview. I’d applied in a sleepy afternoon haze three weeks before and nearly forgotten about it. I was applying everywhere back then. When the academic publisher offered me a second interview, I almost turned it down. It seemed unethical to be going to an interview when I’d already accepted a position at Phalacrocorax.
I was so torn. I’d gone from having no job, to two completely different opportunities. I sought advice from anyone and everyone who would listen to me. Ultimately, it was my publishing program coordinator who’d convinced me to go to the second interview with the academic publisher. She told me, “you should go because they deserve the chance to meet you.”
So they met me. And they offered me a job. A real job, not an internship. A paid permanent position with a cubicle and a headset and a living wage. And I had to accept it. Financially, I had no other choice. I was so lucky to get a paid full time job in my field immediately after graduation, I had to take full advantage. I was running out of discount trials for meal box subscriptions to curve our grocery bills. It broke my heart to write back to that indie publisher to resign from the internship that I never even got a chance to start.
At the festival, I snuck one last peak back at the Phalacrocorax booth, watching my former classmate talk to a group of attendees. I’d found out on the last day of classes that she had been publicly airing her grievances about my life choices. She believed it was rather rude of me to take back my acceptance of the internship. I uncharacteristically burst into tears when I heard that. At a bar. In front of half my class. The whole ordeal had been so emotionally draining. And then she’d turned around and gladly accepted the internship I’d so rudely turned down.
Everyday we make choices that lead us down certain paths in life. This was one of the toughest career decisions I ever had to make. Overall, I believe I chose correctly. It’s hard not to wonder, though, what my life would be like now if I had just stuck with the internship.