Runway: Chapter 18
The day after Christmas I was trying to keep my spirits up, but it had been the worst Christmas on record for me.
I was used to being alone on holidays. That wasn’t anything new for me. My brother, Jason, still lived in Louisiana and we weren’t close.
I had been alone in Los Angeles for years and was really fine with it. I liked my life for the most part. I’d loved my job since becoming a booker. I had good friends. I’d had a goal—something to keep me going.
I never realized just how much having that goal had meant to me until it was gone. I’d always wanted to have my own runway agency. And I’d come awfully close to having it. But now that that dream had gone up in smoke, I was very, very sad about that.
I was also still very sad at the loss of a man that I loved and had come awfully close to having as well. There for a minute, I really believed that I could have a man like Eric Northman. But, of course, that went up in smoke too.
One day, Eric and I were lovers, and I was buying the runway division of Merlotte’s and Eric was buying the most beautiful house I’d ever seen, and I thought I was on my way to real happiness, both personally and professionally. And then the next day, Eric wasn’t speaking to me and I was tangled up in business with the wrong person. Eric’s dream house was bought by somebody else. And my world had been in a steady decline ever since.
I wasn’t blaming anyone. It was completely my own fault. I made a huge error in judgment, and I paid the price.
I lost Eric when I told him I’d gone into business with Quinn. He yelled at me on the phone and insulted me. I left messages for him for ten days apologizing, but he never called me back. I finally stopped, figuring I had humiliated myself enough.
The day Quinn and I had officially become the owners of the runway division, I got my first clue I’d make a mistake when I told him I wanted to re-name our division “Runway,” and he said that we’d paid good money for the name Merlotte’s and weren’t about to change that. He reminded me that we were not fifty-fifty partners and his decision was final.
That was also the day I asked Pam if Eric bought the house on Virginia Road and she told me that he hadn’t. I had hoped that at least he would be able to have what he wanted now that he had his money back, but somehow, that hadn’t worked out, and I felt just awful about it. She didn’t go into detail about it—just said someone else had bought it. That was the last time his name was mentioned between me and Pam.
Eric wasn’t ever booked through Merlotte’s anymore, and I never asked why.
I was still very naïve and optimistic about the business until two weeks after I’d bought it when Sam sat me down and told me Quinn was buying the entire agency and Sam had decided to open his own theatrical agency. He said it was an opportunity he just couldn’t walk away from. He offered me a job, but I wanted to stay with my models and book shows.
Terry left to work for Sam, and Quinn, who had sold his events planning business to buy Sam out, came to work at the agency full-time. He immediately fired the receptionist and told us we’d all have to share in answering the phones. Then he cancelled our benefits packages and said we’d have to provide out own medical insurance if we wanted it.
Quinn offered to buy my share of the company and I accepted his offer, feeling defeated but grateful to get my $64,000 back from a partner with whom I didn’t want to be in business.
I prided myself on still being a good booker in spite of my obvious shortcomings as a business person, and the runway division was doing fine. Then things changed a week before Christmas when Quinn called me into his office and told me we were raising the runway rates.
“The runway department brings in the least revenue, and I want to see an increase in rates for shows. We’re starting the New Year with an increase of 50% in rates for the show division.”
“We raised our rates three years ago, Quinn. All the runway agencies in town got together and agreed on the increase. Without the cooperation of the other agencies, we’ll just be shooting ourselves in the foot. Clients just won’t book our models, and they’ll get all their models from our competitors. Eventually, the models will be forced to go elsewhere to keep their clients.”
“That’s fine. So, we’ll have fewer models and maybe fewer bookings at first. Eventually, we’ll make up for it with the rate increase.”
“But, our models won’t be able to make a living on fewer jobs. I’m telling you, they may all leave us. They won’t have a choice.”
“They love you. You’re the magic booker—like their mommy. Just ask them to stay and to stick it out until we can build the numbers back up.”
“I can’t ask them that. They have to pay their rent. They need to work steadily. They don’t make the big day rates the print models make. It’s a different business.”
“Well, I didn’t ask you in here to argue with me. I’m telling you that we’re raising the rates. Deal with it, babe.”
I took Pam out to lunch the following day and told her what was going on.
“I’ll understand if you need to leave and go to another agency, Pam. It won’t change our friendship.”
“I’m not leaving you. I know a lot of the other girls will feel the same way. You’ve taken care of us since the beginning and we won’t leave you. If we have to, we can get other jobs to fill in. I could get a waitress job or something. It’ll work out.”
She reached across the table and took my hand. “I’m not leaving you, Sookie. As long as you’re at Merlotte’s, I’m at Merlotte’s.”
I was touched at her loyalty, but in that moment, I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t let her or any of my other models risk losing clients they had spent years cultivating. They had always depended on me to keep them working and I wasn’t about to let them down. I knew they’d stay as long as I did, and I also knew they should leave and go to an agency that could take better care of them.
On Christmas Eve, I went into Quinn’s office just before lunchtime.
“Are you taking off early, Sookie? Have plans for the holiday?”
“Actually, Quinn, I’m leaving for good.”
“What do you mean?”
“I won’t be back after the Christmas break. Today’s my last day.”
“Where are you going?”
“Nowhere. I don’t have anything else lined up. I’m just quitting.”
He studied me for a minute before saying, “You do what you have to do, babe.”
I called Pam the day after Christmas to tell her the news.
“You just let us know where you land, and we’ll go with you, Sookie. It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry.”
“Thanks, Pam. After the holidays, I guess I’ll try to figure out what I want to do.”
There were only a handful of agencies in town that booked shows and there were certainly no openings anywhere for a booker. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I hoped Sam’s offer would still be good. I could learn a new business and book actors for film and TV even though it wasn’t really what I’d had my heart set on. I was learning that it was very hard to get what you set your heart on in life.
I went on, “I’m not sure where I’ll end up, Pam. You should go ahead and find another runway agency.”
“I’m moving and my expenses are going to go down, so I can afford a little dip in business if I have to until you find a new job. I’ll just wait.”
“You’re moving? Why didn’t you tell me? Do you need any help?”
“Yeah, I’m moving into a guest house. My new landlord is out of town a lot, so I’m paying almost nothing in exchange for taking care of his dog and the main house while he’s away. So, I can afford a little lull in business if I have to.”
“That’s great that you found a guest house—sounds really perfect, actually. When are you moving?”
“The truck comes tomorrow.”
“What can I do to help?”
“You know you can tell who your real friends are when it comes to moving day. Thanks, Sookie. Actually, it would be great if you could help me with my plants and a few things I don’t trust to the movers.”
“Of course. What time should I be there?”
“About 3 o’clock?”
“See you then.”
I went to bed in a slightly improved mood. I was happy for Pam that she’d found such a great new place to live and would be able to take a financial hit if she had to. Of course, I had dozens of other models who might not be in such a good place and I still worried about them. I decided to try and focus on the immediate future since the big picture was feeling a little overwhelming. For now, I would just look forward to helping Pam move. I turned out the light and went to sleep feeling at least a little better.