There are few things as satisfying as cracking open a box of freshly printed cardstock.
The rip of the seal. The tang of new paper. The thirty-two-point thickness, smooth under my fingertips. Each black letter proving I’ve earned the corner office I’ve yet to properly settle into.
Sure, my dad will sneer at the business cards being printed digitally instead of inked by hand with one of his antique letterpresses.
I’m willing to overlook this “flaw.”
The lack of bespoke debossing doesn’t change the fact CARTER PRESCOTT is emblazoned right above the VP title I’ve worked my ass off to achieve.
I tap one of the red-seamed edges of the card on my desk and shake my head. I can’t hand them out. The double thickness isn’t standard OfficeMart corporate branding. These are just for me.
Dickhead posturing through stationery? Certainly, but I’ve waited years for this. Sue me if I got a little carried away.
And forgive me for wanting to mail one to my dad. With a handwritten note like he prefers.
Thanks for the motivation. I couldn’t have done it without you telling me I shouldn’t do it.
The rending of garments when I sold out to Soulless Big Paper (™ Francis John Prescott) could be heard all the way from his Vermont artisan shop to Montreal.
I stand and slowly circle my brand-spanking-new office, puzzling over how to set up my furniture. If I angle my desk along the far wall, I’ll get a view of the spires of the Notre-Dame Basilica and the green swaths of the parks on L’île Sainte-Hélène. I’d have set it up to face the Gay Village in the distance, enjoy the vivid rainbow stripe of the plastic-ball street ceiling that stretched for a kilometer, but the installation got taken down a couple of years ago.
When the balls went up for sale, nostalgia demanded I buy a string of each color and drape them on the balcony of my condo in a rainbow of my own. It was for charity after all. And I had a lot of good times during the couple of summers when the strands turned the street into a magical queer grotto.
Maybe I’ll fix a few of each color onto some fake stems and create a bouquet for the bookshelf running along the doorless wall of my office. A little hey, this is who I am under the guise of local memorabilia.
My cell buzzes in the pocket of my suit pants. I pull it out. Imprescott Designs.
Shit. Dad’s calling from work? Maybe he’s actually going to congratulate me.
An odd warmth spreads in my chest, and I answer. “Dad, hey—”
“Carter.” He sounds oddly emotional. “Do you have a minute?”
To hear him acknowledge my success? Always. “Sure, what’s up?”
He doesn’t finish.
My stomach plummets, and my earlier cockiness dissolves into sludge. “Is she okay?”
Mom’s only fifty-nine, and she’s spent her life eating steel-cut oats and kale. I can’t imagine her in anything but perfect health. But Dad is choking so hard on his words that I’m running through all the possibilities. Heart attack, stroke, cancer—fuck, maybe a car accident—
“She left me,” he finally mumbles.
What? It’s not a terminal illness or death, but it’s still unexpected. I skirt around my desk and ease into my chair. My knees are still shaking from my trip down worst-case-scenario lane.
“Left you? For good? Where are you?”
“I… I don’t know.” He pauses. “I mean, I don’t know if she’s gone for good. I know where I am. At work.”
Of course. A waste of breath, that question. He’s probably in his cluttered office, bewildered and running a hand through flyaway blond hair that’s in need of a good comb. I’m also cursed with it. Hence, keeping mine trimmed AF. I polish my glasses more than once a century too. And I purged all my T-shirts sporting the logos of various Burlington annual festivals the minute I got my first real paycheck.
“What did you do?” I ask.
“I…” He clears his throat. “Nothing.”
“It can’t be nothing. You’ve been married for almost forty years. People don’t just up and leave for no reason.” People leave because of good reasons, like being offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in a breathtaking, cosmopolitan city.
And when a boyfriend decides he’s not willing to move, not willing to take the risk to be together, well, that’s on him.
“No.” Dad’s tone is defeated. “It really was nothing. As in, ‘Francis, you’ve put everything into the letterpresses and nothing into this fucking marriage since before I went through menopause. And I’m done.’”
“That’s a shitty kind of nothing, Dad.”
“She’s right, isn’t she?”
“I honestly don’t know.” I’m typically only home for holidays, when everyone’s on their best behavior. Granted, “best behavior” usually involves my dad getting too deep into the pot of mulled wine at Christmas and calling me a corporate mouthpiece, but him taking umbrage with my career choice is well established. I’ve never gotten the impression there was animosity between him and my mom.
I picture the sunny kitchen without Dad puttering around, making molasses-thick coffee, and the garden without Mom lost among her dahlias. A lump fills my throat. I can’t fathom them not being together.
Guilt grips me. If I’d managed to sell him on the business plan I crafted from sweat, tears, and hubris during my MBA program, had convinced him to bring the shop into the twenty-first century, would he be going through this?
No point in running presses from the 1900s like they’re products of the 2000s, Carter. Respect the history.
Right, this isn’t on me. It’s one more example of my dad being a stubborn ass.
I was right to walk away from Imprescott Designs.
Heat creeps up my neck, the residual kind from past arguments that lies deep in your belly, just waiting to emerge and snap with ferocity.
“It’s not the first time you’ve let the business come between you and a family member.” The accusation tumbles from my lips before I can edit out the obvious bitterness.
“Jesus, Carter. I didn’t call for you to unload on me too.”
“Then you should have called Jill.”
“Your sister’s not speaking to me,” he admits. “Taking your mother’s side. Keeps texting me, asking how I want her to answer Cypress’s questions about whether or not Gran loves Pops anymore.”
My eyes widen. “I should get ahold of Mom.” No way am I getting between them on this, but I want my mom’s side of the story and to see if she needs me to support her.
He sighs. “You can try. But she… she left for Paris last night.”
I almost drop my phone. When was the last time my mom had traveled farther than Boston?
“With no warning?” I say.
“Claims she’s tired of waiting for me to unchain myself from the Vandercook.”
The visual’s fairly accurate. My dad spends more time wearing his leather apron and fussing with his cast-iron letterpresses than not. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wants to be buried with his beloved machines, let alone be unchained from them while he’s still upright and breathing. It’s not hard to understand where Mom’s coming from.
A corner of my mouth creeps up. I’m proud of her. I can envision her wandering through the Latin Quarter, eclectic skirts and scarves swirling as she nibbles on a pain au chocolat. Whenever I’m in Paris on business, she always asks me to eat a new kind of pastry and send her a picture. And if her goal right now is to finally live out all the travel on her vision board, I’m here for that. I’m all about laser-focusing on the future and knocking things off the to-do list.
My gut’s still uneasy.
“Maybe you should unchain yourself from the Vandercook. Take some time off.”
“You haven’t taken more than three days off since you started working for that sellout of a company,” he says. “So maybe you shouldn’t point fingers.”
It’s such a common refrain I’m immune to it.
“This isn’t about me. I’m not letting anyone down by working.” Anymore. “You are. And isn’t fixing things with Mom worth taking drastic action?”
“Again, that’s rich coming from—”
“Again, this is not about me. I’m not committed to someone. You are. So do the fucking work.”
The defeated hiss he lets out almost bursts my eardrum. I wince.
“I don’t know how,” he admits.
I blink long. I’m not used to him being anything but a thousand percent certain his way is right.
“Well, Dad, maybe ask her—”
“Carter!” A head pops into my doorway. Anne-Emmanuelle, one of the directors on my merchandising team, is a little out of breath. Her hair twists bounce like she ran from the conference room. “Notre meeting. Est-ce que tu viens?”
There’s nothing like Montreal franglais, especially when it’s delivered in Anne-Emmanuelle’s Guadeloupean accent.
Meeting. I jolt, checking my watch. Shit, I’m late. I hold my cell to my chest. “Uh, j’ai un urgence familiale. Peux-tu faire un excuse pour moi? J’ai besoin de, enh… Cinq? Non, dix minutes.”
Her dark eyes go saucer-wide, probably at the mention of a family emergency. She nods that she’ll pass along my assurance I’ll be at the meeting in ten and scoots away from view.
I refocus on my dad. “You need a plan.”
“I’m keeping you from work,” he says.
It’s between the hours of seven a.m. and eight p.m. Of course he’s keeping me from work. “Yeah, Friday afternoon merchandising team meeting. I’m still in the process of establishing myself in my new position.”
“Your new— Oh right.” His voice flattens as if it’s a disappointment that his son is one of the youngest VPs ever hired by OfficeMart, one of the most profitable global office-supply companies currently in operation.
What am I saying? For Francis Prescott, it’s more than a disappointment. It’s a betrayal.
It’s no secret he’d be prouder of me if I were back in Vermont, with ink streaked across my old, cow-emblazoned I’VE GOT THE MOOS LIKE JAGGER T-shirt.
I’ll admit I didn’t throw that one out. It’s in a drawer somewhere, probably underneath my collection of pocket squares and the Burlington University water polo hoodie I nicked off a man I pretend to forget.
The thought of the last time I wore it—the last time someone took it off me—sends a flood of something as bittersweet as my dad’s coffee through my veins.
I don’t have regrets.
My dad will though, if he doesn’t fix things with my mom.
And if I don’t offer to help, I might too.
“What can I do, Dad?”
“Figure out a way to duplicate me so I can chase after your mom?” It’s clearly meant to be a joke, but the watery tone steals its punch.
And it shouldn’t be a joke. He should be chasing after my mom.
“Your assistant can’t handle a week without you?”
“It’s always a zoo… Contracts out the ying-yang. A big one I need to finish up today, for one.”
More like an owner who frequently double-books himself and is allergic to using a computer for anything but design work, so the sole employee he can afford spends half his time fighting managerial inefficiencies.
I picture Dad’s record-keeping system—a tattered Blundstone box from a pair of boots I owned in high school—and my blood pressure spikes.
“Could… Could you come pitch in?” he says.
I must have misheard him. “I’m sorry. You want me to work for you?”
“I’ve always wanted you to work for me.”
I grit my teeth. That argument got stale around the time Beyoncé was telling the world to put a ring on it.
But he’s not asking for a lifetime commitment here. He knows I have no interest in playing his lackey while he bumbles his way to a marginal profit. “You want me to come home for a few days? Cover for you while you chase after Mom?”
“Well…” The lump is back. I swallow, trying to make it dissolve. The sliver of shared space in the Venn diagram titled Carter Prescott vs. Francis Prescott is about a millimeter wide.
That doesn’t mean I want him to be lonely and work himself into a stress-induced grave.
Nor do I want my mom to be unhappy or for my sister to have to explain to her kids why Gran and Pops can’t both come to their birthday parties anymore.
“I should be able to swing a bit of time off.” As much as Dad likes to go on about my company being soulless and the root of all evil, HR is understanding when it comes to family emergencies. Executives have worked remotely before. I’m new to my position, sure, but with my track record of taking all of one week of vacation a year, they’ll know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t necessary. “If I come home, do you promise to grovel like you’ve never groveled before? Actually try to figure out what’s wrong and do something about it?”
“I probably can’t fix it.”
“There are unfixable problems.” Like, say, your boyfriend taking your dad’s side when you propose a way to expand the family business. “But there are fixable ones too. Just be prepared to come up with some Patrick-Swayze-pulling-Baby-out-of-the-corner levels of brilliance. I can manage the business, but the relationship work is up to you.”
He goes silent for a few seconds. “What about Auden?”
“What about him?”
“Can you work with him?” Dad’s tone is doubt-ridden. “He’s still—”
“I won’t be home long enough for my history with Auden to be an issue. Go to France. Fix things with Mom. I’ll step in.”
Whether I’ll be stepping in knee-deep shit remains to be seen.
Turnabout is a second-chance romance with interfering family, groveling, and a large helping of artisan stationery geekery. You’ll find it live May 6 on Amazon and in KU.