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Historical Fiction

1904; Claire's boot sloshed into a puddle as she emerged from the carriage. She awkwardly grabbed her briefcase and notes from the velvet seat and handed a few coins to the driver.

"Thank you, sir"

He grunted and commanded the horse to keep moving. She swallowed, taking a deep breath, observing her surroundings, and marched down the street, the click-clack of her heels matching the accelerating speed of her heartbeat.

Suddenly, she heard a whistle behind her and darted her eyes up from the cobblestone beneath her feet.

"What's your name pretty lady?" A gruff male voice echoes behind her. She hears a few chuckles following, but fights the urge to tell them her name is none of their concern and continues walking. Shaking it off, Claire sets her eye on the prize. The Hall Daily Local Newspaper. Just thinking about it put a subconscious smile to her face. She knew damn well that she was odd. From a young age at that. While Joanna and Cindy had been married for years now, Claire had refused, insisting on the importance of career, much to the dismay of her parents.

She set down her case on the Philadelphia sidewalk and thought seriously about turning around, using the rest of her money on trips back home, and never looking back. But alas, a task such as that could be considered impossible for a spirit such as the one of Claire Sullivan. She opens the door and walks right into the building, doing her very best to conceal the fear that was exploding within. The building was intimidating. Not tall at all, but still taking up a whole block. She walked in, to see a receptionist.

"It's not cleaning day. You must have mixed up the times." He says, before she can even introduce herself.

"Excuse me?" She gained her composure and collected herself. "Perhaps you're confused. I have an appointment with Mr. Hall" She stated proudly.

"No. I only have a Clark Sullivan today, and by your looks I can assume you are not a Clark Sullivan." She tucked her lips in to conceal her giggle.

"That's me. Claire Sullivan at your service." The man looked taken aback, then impressed, then angry and she became rather frustrated with him for not making his mind up. He narrowed his eyes, and headed off into a side room. She sat down in a chair and smoothened out the ruffles in her skirt that had appeared from nervously tugging at it. All she could do now was wait.

1974; "Are you sure this is what you want, Annie? You're telling me you're fine bringing coffee to men at Dunham Magazine for the rest of your life?"

"Don't call me Annie, Benjamin. And yes, this is certainly what I want. I'm perfectly content." She retorted at her brother. She knew he's only trying to look out for her, but nonetheless, couldn't pass up an opportunity to disagree with him.

"You don't need to work, Annie. There's plenty you can do back here!" God, she could have sworn he knew exactly what to say to make her want to come home just to punch him.

"I'm not coming home, Benji." Having enough of his pestering, Anne abruptly hung up, not even bothering to tell him she didn't like that childish nickname.

She huffed, and returned to her desk. Glancing up at the time, she noticed it was half-past seven, just about when Rick would be wanting his coffee. She got up to the machine and recited the orders in her head. Grabbing them two at a time, to not make a fool of herself as she did last week, she gently tapped on the glass door.

"Come in." She lightly pushes the door open to be greeted by the sight of several men in brown suits, gathered around an elliptical table. She gives them a smile.

"Uh-um, black for Rich, decaf for Andy. And I-I will be back with th-the other ones in just a second." She nods and heads out but not before hearing mockery from the men: "J-j-just-just a s-sec-second" With cackling coming from several other voices.

"Gentlemen! This is an office. Are we incapable of being professional?" Following, the laughter died down, and the discussion was over, as if it had never happened. She wasn't sure why they made her so nervous, so uncomfortable.

After bringing the rest of the coffees, she shoved her pack of cigarettes into her pocket and went outside for a smoke, only to see a group of young people, probably about Anne's age. One particularly stood out. A girl with long strawberry blonde hair, more strawberry than blonde, the perfect ratio. She looked angry, so did all the others. With a megaphone in her hand, and her brows furrowed, she hollered.

"What do we want?"

"Equality!" The group reacted.

"When do we want it?"

"Now!" Anne smiled watching the scene but quickly wiped it off. They were radical. Loud and wanting the world to change too fast. The world was fine as it was, Anne assured herself. She lit her cigarette just as her eyes were met with those of one strawberry blonde.

1904; "He's ready for you." He muttered and strolled off, returning to his petite desk. Breathing a sigh of relief, she stepped into his large office. He was quite a powerful man, after all.

"Hi. Claire Sullivan," she put her hand out for him to shake and he took it. "I am here to pitch to you my most acclaimed story, a novel. Now it isn't outrageous, progressive, extreme, unless that is what you are looking for. But it isn't and it won't disappoint your readers. So if you could only take a look at it before deciding to decline because I am a woman, that would be much appreciated." She rambled, and then gasped. "I am so-I am so sorry, sir." He had a smug look on his face that Claire was struggling to interpret.

"Well Ms. Sullivan, I suppose I would like to take a look knowing that is not outrageous nor progressive or extreme, and it won't disappoint my readers. If only I could get a word in, is that too much to ask from the man who could singlehandedly mold your career?" She was at a loss for words. She didn't quite like his tone or his word choice, but he was right. Something she only hesitantly admitted.

"Of course sir. My apologies. I can come off as a bit forward." She was so flustered and beet red that she hadn't even noticed they were still standing. He motioned for her to take a seat, but she couldn't ignore the lurking feeling that she had already ruined her opportunity. Sitting in the wooden chair in front of one of the nation's most renowned publisher, to whom she had traveled a thousand miles. She wasn't about to give up.

"Claire you must understand the risk I would be taking should I hire you."

"Of course I do sir. But I will do anything. Conceited as it may sound, I am a marvelous writer and if you prefer, no one has to know of my gender." He leans back and huffs, seemingly weighing his options.

"Alright. You leave your manuscript and if I find it of value, I shall send a letter."

1974; Strawberry grinned and walked up to Anne. "Ruby." She puts her hand out. Anne looks at it before deciding to take it. She was stunned at Ruby's casualty. That's no way to formally introduce yourself, Anne thought. "Would you like to join?" Anne nearly dropped her smoke.

She scoffed. "I think I'll pass. Thank you though." Anne almost left. She wanted to leave. But something was planting her feet. She decided to take a chance. "Why do you do this? Why can't you be satisfied with the way the world is?"

"What's your name?"


"Well, Anne. We live in a man's world. Everything we do as women is doubted, questioned, disbelieved. From the minute girls are born, all her parents can think about is her wedding day. But the minute a boy is born, we think about his career." Anne wanted to object. But when she thought about it, she always remembered Momma introducing her to 'nice boys' starting at sixteen, while for Benji, they thought about his future.

"You're very pretty, Anne." Ruby smiled, and touched Anne's cheek. Anne gasped.

"What do you think your doing?! I'm not like...that. And you shouldn't be either." She stormed off, but not without feeling something foreign and exciting inside.

Anne returned to her desk, and tried her very best to be disgusted at the incident she had with Ruby, but all it did was make her smile. As soon as she noticed what she was doing, she stopped.

"Anne!" She heard Rick calling.

"Yes sir?"

"Go tell those people yelling to shove it."

Anne was confused.

"Sorry sir?"

"There are people. Yelling. Outside my window." He said so slowly, so calmly it frightened her. She cleared her throat and nodded. Frankly she agreed. It was uncalled for and annoying.

"Ruby!" She yelled. "My boss is asking that you shut up over whatever you're blabbering about! This is Dunham Magazine, have some respect!" Ruby ran away from the crowd.

"Anne, did you even bother to consider that maybe what we're 'blabbering about' is more important that Ricky working in peace. We're getting the exact reaction out of him that we wanted. You made it very clear that you don't agree with me or us, so please go back to doing whatever unfulfilled coffee pourers do. Ah of course, pour coffee." Anne surely did not appreciate the language that was being used towards her. But as much as she fought it, she couldn't help but admire Ruby.

The way her hair glistened in the sun, or how her eyes twinkled when she spoke, or how she played with the zipper of her leather jacket. But no! Anne couldn't think like that. She swallowed.

"Well, um, why are you yelling?" Anne asked, genuinely curious.

"We aren't yelling Anne, we're protesting. My friend Louise worked here. Rick sexually assaulted her. We're here for justice." Ruby noticed Anne's confused face and sighed. "He touched her Anne. She didn't want him to, and he did." Anne's eyes widened in shock.

"You should tell them, if you tell them, they will fire him! They'll do something! Of course they will!"

"They already know, Anne. They already know." Anne paused in disbelief.

"Give me a sign."

1904; When Claire walked out of her temporary residence, the old woman, Mrs. Beaumont informed her of a letter. Could it be Walter Hall? She walked up the stairs back to her room and eagerly ripped open the letter in anticipation and excitement.

Dear Ms. Sullivan

I regret to inform you that I have consulted with my superiors and we deem you unfit for the job we are looking for. It seems like The Hall Daily is not for you.

That was all Claire needed. To know that she had been rejected. Tears flowed from her eyes and she shredded the letter without reading the rest of it. She plopped down onto the small bed and buried her face in it. What was her next step? She was 21 with nothing but a briefcase and a manuscript alone in Philadelphia, and now hopeless as well.

After going days without getting up from bed, only to use the toilet, she got a visit from someone. Mrs. Beaumont.

"What are you doing, Dear? I thought you came here to be a writer?" Mrs. Beaumont said to her. "The Hall Daily isn't the only existing newspaper. It isn't over." Sighing, Claire rubbed her hands over her face.

"I know." She croaked out. "But if Walter Hall didn't like my writing, who will?"

"Did I ever tell you that my husband is dear friends with Lionel Dunham?" Claire shot up. "Perhaps I could put in a good word." She chuckled. Claire smiled.

"You would do that for me?"

"Of course." Claire hugged the woman.

It hadn't taken much for Claire to get an interview with Lionel Dunham, founder of The Dunham, one of Hall's biggest rivals and competitors. The next Friday, Claire found herself as the only woman amongst a room of men, all interviewing for the same job. The only difference being that Claire's odds compared to an Oxford educated family man were staggeringly low.

She tugged on her skirt, her nervous habit, and recited the right and wrong things to say. After about an hour of watching men get spat out time after time, she heard her name.

"Claire-" the man announcing the names stopped. "Claire Sullivan?" he questioned. She tightened her fists and calmly stood up. "That's me."

1974; Ruby looked shocked. "Just like that? Damn, you're easy." Anne shot her a look but couldn't contain her rage. How could they? She had been so blind. She knew she still didn't agree with all these...protesters' beliefs, but maybe she was beginning to see things differently.

She grabbed a sign and the megaphone and shouted, having no clue where it was coming from, but she still shouted.

"Who is at fault?!" She yelled. It was silent. She started blushing profusely, terrified there would be no response. But after about a minute of sole humiliation someone says something.

"RICK STEINER" Anne looked at the direction of the sound. It was Ruby. With her fist in the air and that familiar twinkle in her eyes. Anne thought she was glowing. She also had no idea what to do next. Should she scream? Leave? Apologize? She looks to Ruby with frantic eyes and is given a small nod and a smile.

"Who is at fault?!" She screams again. This time, returned with a different answer.

"Rick Steiner!" They all yell. Anne blinks several times as she feels a rush of adrenaline, catching the attention of strolling pedestrians.

"I can't hear you!" She says, not recognizing herself. "I said who is at fault?!"

"RICK STEINER!" The group screamed. Oh, the rush. The indescribable rush. Excitement flowing through her veins, filling her with ecstasy, surging her with power. It was an emotion unlike anything she had ever experienced in her 21 years of life.

Anne stayed until it got dark that night. Until she could practically feel the forming bags under her eyes. Yet she never grew tired. Everything was fine until it wasn't.

Around eleven o-clock at night, they had been marching and screaming for hours and Anne couldn't imagine doing anything else. Then, they heard the sirens. Apparently, many people had been complaining, and the crowd had only increased with the dying sun. The police cars surrounded the group of about sixty people. Anne was scared. She had always been a good, quiet girl. Never rebelling or having run-ins with the law. She felt like crying. But when she looked at Ruby, she saw grinning. With that gorgeous, enchanting grin. Not grinning, though, beaming. She was beaming.

Someone yelled 'RUN' and the next thing she knew, Anne was being yanked forwards and running faster than she ever had. She looked to her left to see Ruby's strawberry hair whipping in the wind against the matte black sky. A sight to remember. She was laughing, and soon Anne joined her. They laughed while sprinting, holding hands, looking back at the red-faced cop chasing them. It was exhilarating.

And for the first time, Anne felt something so rare, so beyond words. Love.

1904; It had been two weeks since the interview with Lionel Dunham, and still Claire had no word. No information or slightest clue at if she had done okay. Who was she kidding, of course she didn't get the job. She was a woman. And it was 1904.

But of course that all changed when she was asked to personally come to Lionel Dunham's office. She could not begin to predict what he would say. Maybe he did it with all he's interviewees.

She arrived at the address, and was welcomed in. Not without several double glances from workers in the building of course. Wow. Dunham Magazine. She prepared herself for the worst as he called her into his medium sized office.

"Claire Sullivan. I see something in you," He began. "Now, I don't say that very often. Your story about the aristocrats of Alabama was beguiling, wonderful, enticing." Her breath hitched in her throat. "I want you to come write for Dunham Magazine, if you would li-"

"-I would!" She stood up rapidly. But then quickly sat back down. He chuckled at her childishness. "I-yes, I would."

As she walked out of Dunham Magazine and looked behind her at the captivating construction that would soon become her workplace, she wiped her watering eyes.

Walking into the Ruby Inn, the name she would later call her granddaughter, she embraced Mrs. Beaumont with everything in her.

"Thank you." She went upstairs and got to work.

1974; After they finally arrived in an alleyway and outran the cop, they stopped to catch their breath.

"What am I doing Ruby? What am I doing with my life? I don't want to pour the coffee, I want to be the one getting their coffee poured! I want to be a writer! I came here to be a writer! I want to be a-a barrier breaker! The next Jane Austen! The next Claire Sullivan! The next astonishing writer.

Ruby laughed, and in Anne's eyes it was the most beautiful laugh. Without thinking twice, she grabbed Ruby's face and kissed her.


March 13, 2021 02:55

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1 comment

Stevie B
12:05 Mar 20, 2021

You have a very good sense in the balancing of dialogue with narrative in your telling of this tale.


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