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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: Chapter 23


WHEN I WALK INTO EVELYN’S office the next morning, I’m so nervous that my back is sweating and a shallow pool is forming along my spine.

Grace puts down a charcuterie platter, and I can’t stop staring at the cornichons as Evelyn and Grace are talking about Lisbon in the summer.

The moment Grace is gone, I turn to Evelyn.

“We need to talk,” I say.

She laughs. “Honestly, I feel like that’s all we do.”

“About Vivant, I mean.”

“OK,” she says. “Talk.”

“I need to know some sort of timeline for when this book might be released.” I wait for Evelyn to respond. I wait for her to give me something, anything, resembling an answer.

“I’m listening,” she says.

“If you don’t tell me when this book could realistically be sold, then I’m running the risk of losing my job for something that might be years away. Decades, even.”

“You certainly have high hopes for my life span.”

“Evelyn,” I say, somewhat discouraged that she still isn’t taking this seriously. “I either need to know when this is coming out or I need to promise Vivant an excerpt of it for the June issue.”

Evelyn thinks. She is sitting cross-legged on the sofa opposite me, in slim black jersey pants, a gray shell tank, and an oversized white cardigan. “OK,” she says, nodding. “You can give them a piece of it—whatever piece you like—for the June issue. If, and only if, you shut up about this timeline business.”

I don’t let my joy show on my face. I’m halfway there. I can’t rest until I’m done. I have to push her. I have to ask and be willing to be told no. I have to know my worth.

After all, Evelyn wants something from me. She needs me. I don’t know why or what for, but I know I wouldn’t be sitting here if that weren’t the case. I have value to her. I know that. And now I have to use it. Just as she would if she were me.

So here we go.

“You need to sit for a photo shoot. For the cover.”

“No.”

“It’s nonnegotiable.”

“Everything is negotiable. Haven’t you gotten enough? I’ve agreed to the excerpt.”

“You and I both know how valuable new images of you would be.”

“I said no.”

OK. Here we go. I can do this. I just have to do what Evelyn would do. I have to “Evelyn Hugo” Evelyn Hugo. “You agree to the cover photo, or I’m out.”

Evelyn sits forward in her chair. “Excuse me?”

“You want me to write your life story. I want to write your life story. But these are my terms. I’m not going to lose my job for you. And the way I keep my job is I deliver an Evelyn Hugo feature with a cover. So you either persuade me to lose my job over this—which is only possible if you tell me when this book is being sold—or you do this. Those are your options.”

Evelyn looks at me, and I get the impression that I am more than she bargained for. And I feel good about that. There’s a smile forming that is hard to keep in.

“You’re having fun with this, aren’t you?” she says.

“I’m trying to protect my interests.”

“Yes, but you’re also good at it, and I think you’re delighting in it a bit.”

I finally let the smile out. “I’m learning from the best.”

“Yes, you are,” Evelyn says. She scrunches her nose. “A cover?”

“A cover.”

“Fine. A cover. And in exchange, starting Monday, I want you here every waking moment. I want to tell you all I have to say as soon as possible. And from now on, when I don’t answer a question the first time, you don’t ask it again. Do we have a deal?”

I get up from behind the desk, walk over to Evelyn, and put out my hand. “Deal.”

Evelyn laughs. “Look at you,” she says. “You keep this up, you might just rule your own part of the world one day.”

“Why, thank you,” I say.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she says, not unkindly. “Sit down at the desk. Start recording. I don’t have all day.”

I do as I’m told, and then I look at her. “All right,” I say. “So you’re in love with Celia, you’ve divorced Don, it looks like your career is down the tubes. What’s next?”

Evelyn takes a second to answer, and in that moment I realize that she has just agreed to the very thing she swore she would never do—a Vivant cover—just so I won’t walk.

Evelyn wants me for something. And she wants it bad.

And now I’m finally starting to suspect that I should be scared.


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