Apollo’s 11 (unedited)
It was January 8th, and I already felt like my New Year’s resolutions were all going to fail.
- Yoga every morning: Lasted three days.
- No more fast food: Five days.
- Write an article every day: Still going, because if I stop I’ll starve.
- Get started on my book: Can’t start if there’s nothing to write about.
- Spice up sex life: Don’t even ask.
I wanted this year to be different. To meet new people, to write a great book, to clean my life up, have adventures and romance and all that social media perfection—but who was I kidding? I would be a curvy homebody forever.
Moving to San Francisco was supposed to help give me a new start. Actually, I was just following my boyfriend, Nick, to his new startup job. Since I wrote BuzzFeed-like click bait articles from home, so I didn’t have to worry about finding work. Except I did worry about it. All the time.
The glamorous life of a writer, ladies, and gentleman. Sitting here in my flannel PJs, a mug of coffee dangerously close to my loud mechanical keyboard, gray cat tackling my Garfield slippers, and me; wishing against hope my latest article would track well and look good on my portfolio. “10 Sexy Billionaires You Won’t Believe Are Still Single.”
Top of the list? Apollo Irons, heir to his father’s fortune, with a body like a Greek sculpture, and the raven-black hair and glacier-blue eyes the Irons family was famous for. Known for being an elusive technophobe, despite running the biggest startup incubator in the world, he captured the imaginations of millions of drooling female fans; no comment on whether I was one of them. I mean, he had the right height, he had an athlete’s physique, and he loved to dress in perfectly-tailored, all-black Armani when he wasn’t getting his hands dirty on his family’s old ranch or sparring with professional boxers. Literally tall, dark and handsome, with strong hands and the cheekbones and jawline of a superhero. Swoon.
His brother was also on the list, Perseus Irons, his father must have had a Zeus complex. Slender rather than lean, with strong wavy hair and a “smile to crack your monitor”; my editors loved that kind of stuff. Some women enjoyed the “fey” look of Perseus more than the superhero look of Apollo, and I understood why, so I couldn’t avoid adding another Irons to the list. They were both technically single, after all.
With merchandise like that on the front page, there was no way the article wouldn’t get thousands of hits. I knocked on the wood of the computer desk for luck. I didn’t know then just how lucky I was about to get.
“Package in the mail for ya, babe,” said Nick outside the closed door of my office.
Well, by “office” I meant a den in our apartment with an IKEA desk and a single computer chair. Nick had an expensive PC, and a 30-inch LED monitor where he played computer games on, and I had my 11-inch MacBook Air next to my trusty iPad. Other than the desk, a small yellow reading chair, a pair of waist-high bookshelves, a lamp, and the litterbox, there wasn’t room for anything more.
“Coming,” I said. My article was finished and sent off to my editor, so now was as good a time as any to get away from the computer.
Belle, my cat, squeezed through the crack of the door the second I opened it. Usually I kept her in the office with me while writing since Nick didn’t like cats; he relented when I begged him enough. That and because she always snuck around my ankles no matter where I was. I found it comforting, and a good way to forgive the fact her litter box had to be in the office with me.
“Ordered something?” Nick asked when I entered the kitchen. He handed me a small box. “It came with a letter.”
“A letter?” I asked, intrigued. I hadn’t received a letter since… ever? Who wrote letters nowadays? “No, I don’t think I ordered anything.”
I took the box and gave it a shake. It was heavy despite its smallish size—maybe a textbook? I placed it on our granite kitchen island; the letter balanced atop the box and I looked at the tracking sticker, but it didn’t have a name or a return address on it. Odd.
The envelope of the letter was sealed with wax. Seriously—black wax with an imprint of some kind of harp on it.
“Finally going to Hogwarts?” Nick asked, taking off his coat and hanging it up before leaning down and pecking me on the cheek.
“’Bout time,” I said. I used my fingernail to slit open the flap of the letter until it got to the wax seal. Then, I carefully peeled the wax off the flap.
I hadn’t even touched the letter yet, but a distinctive sweet-spicy smell wafted into my nostrils. It was subtle, I don’t think it was added on purpose, but it evoked a rich masculine aroma which made my spine tingle and my thighs get warm.
Nick apparently didn’t notice. “You’re gonna take the letter out or…?” His arms were around my waist, and his fingers locked at my belly.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was eleven,” I joked. “Ravenclaw, here I come.”
At last, I regained composure, got some strength back in my knees, and got the letter out of the envelope.
‘Dear Ms. Calista Cohen,
On October 22nd of last year, you added your name to a list of potential beta readers for my autobiography. You have been especially chosen among the potential readers to receive a galley proof copy of my manuscript. Read it with care and let me know about your thoughts at the address listed on the back of this letter.
A swish of a pen, too fancy to read.
“Holy shit,” Nick said, filling the silence while I was too stunned to speak.
Apollo Irons just wrote me a hand-crafted letter. What was something like that worth? Hundreds? Thousands? I had his signature.
“Chill out, babe,” Nick laughed, rubbing my shoulders. I realized I was breathing like a dog in heat, so I tried to calm down.
Flipping the letter over, I saw he had indeed left an address; a physical address. No email to speak of.
“Portola Valley,” Nick said. “Figures. You know, I’ve never seen or met the guy, but he’s basically my boss.”
I looked at him. “Really? You’ve never mentioned that.”
He shrugged his slender shoulders, a sheepish grin on his face. “He owns the incubator NeoRom operates out of.”
“The office, the land, the servers, pretty much our physical infrastructure. We build something in his space, using his stuff, and in return, he gets a good share in the company.”
NeoRom was the name of the startup Nick worked for. They were developing a kind of coffee delivery app. “The Uber of coffee,” as they fondly said.
“Basically, he could sink us if he felt like it. So, you know, give him a good review.”
“Haw haw,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Nick gave me another peck, the peach fuzz of his beard tickling me before he strolled over to the couch and turned on his PlayStation through its controller. Our apartment was small; with a granite and navy color theme, wide open where the kitchen and living room were, with a little den for our office and a bedroom crammed with bookshelves, dressers, and poorly-assorted dirty laundry. My location in the house largely depended on where Nick was. Not in order to be close to him, but to avoid the sounds of his games. If he was playing with his PlayStation in the living room, I was in the office. If he was playing PC games, I was in the living room.
However, I now endured the sounds of digital gun-chatter to carefully slice open the parcel box.
Inside there was a book with an all-black cover with white text which read, “LYRE: A TRUE STORY (WORKING TITLE)” and below, “UNCORRECTED BOOK PROOF NOT FOR PUBLICATION.”
What did “lyre” mean? I lifted the manuscript, a five-pound stack of paper bound in a simple paperback cover, the back of which had no text. It did feel mysterious; not quite Hogwarts level, but still. And the whole book smelled like the sweet-spicy cologne of the letter.
I gave it another good whiff, just to make sure. God, it was like a drug. Maybe it was?
When Belle nearly knocked me over rubbing against my legs – she was a husky lady – I snapped back to reality. Wanting to get away from the explosions and gunfire coming from the game screen, I snuggled up in bed and got down to reading.
Maybe it was the smell, but I couldn’t put the thing down. Apollo had a commanding presence, even through text. He wrote about being the wealthy heir to the Irons empire; rich even then, but with an “m,” not a “b”, not that being a millionaire was such a terrible situation. His grandfather owned a ranch in the Midwest, and despite Apollo’s well-to-do upbringing, he spent a lot of time working the land. When most kids earned an allowance cleaning their rooms or mowing the lawn, Apollo was breaking horses, herding cattle, and genuinely living off the land. Not something you picture of a millionaire’s pre-teen son doing these days.
Apollo talked about his love of the great outdoors, of his grandfather’s tales of war and survival, of doing things before the internet and iPhones came into the picture. Even before computers appeared in people’s homes. It was a hard life, he wrote, but a worthy life. It made men navigate with a map, or by the stars, instead of using GPS. To learn how to fix one’s broken tools and machines instead of calling a technician or throwing them away for something new. To work hard, be frugal, and make the most with one’s time. To be truly self-reliant. That was Apollo’s dream.
The rest of the manuscript basically lay out his adventures. Traveling, living in the wild, learning survival skills, all the while receiving private teaching from specially-hired educators, who traveled with him and trained him to be worthy of the Irons name. All of this leading to his return to his father’s side so he could be groomed to be the head of the company, which, back then, was an investment firm. He convinced his father to move their operations to San Francisco, to invest in the fledgling Google and pre-iPod Apple—all this as a teenager—before doing the same for Facebook, Airbnb, Uber, and dozens of other success stories.
He seemed to have a gift of prophecy when it came to tech companies, despite never carrying a cell phone and barely touching a computer.
However, the manuscript wasn’t perfect. He went into very little detail, preferring to highlight his triumphs and core philosophy of self-reliance; this was a man in the middle of a controversy surrounding the disappearance of his father, and he barely even talked about his father. His grandfather, sure! But that wasn’t who people wanted to know about, including me. His wild-child sister and genius brother barely got a nod, and at no point did he discuss his doubts, his fears, or his flaws.
It was a puff piece, through and through.
“You’re done already?” Nick asked when he came into the bedroom that night. God, had it really been five hours?
“Just finished,” I said, which was a bit of a fib. I spent some time with the book resting on my lips, just breathing in the smell through my nose and daydreaming.
Nick snapped his fingers at the cat and chased her out of the room with the noise, closing the door behind her. Poor kitty—he’ll warm up to you someday. He then pulled off his salmon-colored hoodie and Mario t-shirt, revealing his untanned, skinny torso; curls of red hair sprouted from the middle of his freckled chest. It looked surreal after so many hours picturing the hard-bodied Apollo Irons. But that wasn’t fair to Nick, so I looked away.
A minute later, he slid into the bed, his cold ankles brushing mine. I placed the manuscript on my bedside counter, clicked off the light of my Wake-Up Light alarm clock, and lifted the covers over my shoulders and chin.
Under the blankets, I felt Nick’s slender hand slide over my ribcage. It was freezing. It always was after his gaming sessions.
So I pictured Apollo’s rough hands instead. Big and tough and calloused from his physical labor. Taking handfuls of my curves, pulling me into his broad chest, tight and warm—hot—and I’d tangle my fingers into his ink-black hair, and he’d…
But it was Nick kissing me. Not the celebrity billionaire. I couldn’t get lost in a fantasy.
So I kissed him back eagerly, sliding my legs over his and warming his cold body until we were both very, very warm. And in the dark, I couldn’t get the image I picked for the world’s number-one bachelor out of my head.
The next morning, I sent Apollo my reply.
Despite Nick’s mostly-joking comment about me sucking up to his “boss,” I gave a thorough criticism of the book. I could have found almost everything in there on Wikipedia. I wanted to know so much more. His family life, his fears, his secrets … his desires.
I tried to put it a little more subtly than that to be honest.
Overall, I didn’t want a puff piece or personal philosophy. I wanted the man himself.
I didn’t expect I’d actually get him.
I stared at the pile of typewritten replies with distaste, grimacing at how very little progress I made despite reading about a dozen “feedback” on my manuscript.
I had thought that I picked them well, sifting through all of the writers and editors that sent in a request to beta-read my work myself, but alas, their credentials had masked their true personalities.
Most of the responses I got were feeble attempts at flirting or trying to get on my good side. Those replies went straight to the trash after only reading a few of lines. I didn’t need a love letter or someone to kiss my ass, I needed solid, in-depth feedback on my autobiography, because I’ll be damned if this didn’t come out perfect.
I sighed heavily after the 15th letter, barely able to finish contain myself from crumpling it into a ball. It was another useless feedback, and I was beginning to doubt that I’d get even at least one decent response about my work. A sharp rapt sounded form my door and I looked up.
The door opened and my assistant, Daphne, peeked her head in, smiling as she looked at me.
“Would you like your coffee now, sir?” she asked, and I waved her inside, my brows furrowing in frustration. She placed my cup of coffee on my desk and peered over the scattered papers on my desk. “Rough day, sir?” she asked sympathetically. I snapped my neck from side to side, getting rid of the stiffs.
“Well, it’s certainly a trying one,” I said wryly, and she pursed her lips, patting me in the shoulder lightly.
“I’m sure you’ll work out something, sir,” she assured me, and I raised one eyebrow at her.
“You’re sure about that?” I asked, and she chortled, nodding her head.
“Well, you haven’t failed yet,” she pointed out, and I shrugged, acknowledging her statement. She was right, after all. I’ve never been faced with a problem I couldn’t solve, and despite my frustration, I knew this was just a momentary setback.
I nodded curtly, dismissing her so I could go back to work. She closed the door behind her and I looked back at the pile of letters on my desk once more before picking up a simple white envelope with a stamp. This one was from a Calista Cohen, and when I opened up her letter, I raised my eyebrows in surprise. She was the only one who gave me a handwritten reply. Plus points for responding in kind.
I had to smirk as I opened the letter fully and got a waft of perfume coming from it. Though I’ve smelt this particular scent from lots of women before, I should probably give her a little credit for trying to give something a little extra.
She opened with an apology for her messy handwriting and hoped that I didn’t have a hard time trying to decipher it. I didn’t have a problem and thought her handwriting was legible, so I really didn’t get what she was talking about. I pressed on, and my brows furrowed.
The sweet smell of her letter was nothing like her cutthroat reply. She wasn’t rude in her remarks about my manuscript, but she wasn’t exactly pulling any punches, either.
‘Dear Apollo Irons,
First of all, I’d like to apologize if my handwriting is messy. I’m embarrassed to admit that my penmanship was never my strong suit, and I don’t practice it much because I could type everything out with a laptop.
With that out of the way, I’d like to thank you for choosing me as one of the beta readers for your autobiography. It was truly an honor to be able to pitch my two cents over it and assist you in giving you some feedback.
Common grammatical errors aside, I thought that, while very eloquent, your autobiography felt closed-off and guarded, like you didn’t really want your readers to get to know you at all. It lacked the emotional register that would resonate toward the reader to keep on reading, because although your experiences working the farm and earning your keep in your family are commendable, you don’t have much the readers would relate to.
Forgive me if this sounds way out of line, but the more I read it, the more I felt that you were subtly stroking your ego by only making note of your accomplishments and achievements but barely making a note of failures (if there are any, because as I’ve said, you only wrote the parts of your success). You hardly ever talked about your family at all either, despite your claims that they, your grandfather especially, were a big part of molding your principles and beliefs and basically, who you are today.
Please do understand that this letter was not written in any way as to insult or malign your person, but to honestly give you constructive criticism about what you’ve written. I sincerely hope that you do not take my words the wrong way and that you consider them helpful in your completion of your autobiography.
Thank you very much again for this opportunity.
A puff piece. That’s basically it. That’s the short of what she meant.
She thought I wrote it to stroke my ego. It never occurred to me that it would be interpreted that way. I thought I had kept the tone as neutral as possible, but apparently not.
She’s the only one who’s given me negative feedback about my work, so far. It probably wouldn’t be a reach if I thought she was the only one who told the truth.
I picked the envelope again and turned it over, reading the return address and mentally mapping out the route I could take.
I’ll have Daphne rearrange my schedule tomorrow. I needed to squeeze a visit to this woman as soon as possible.
Calista Cohen might be the only person who could pull this off.
Apollo’s 11, coming May 19th. Want me to tell you the second it’s available? Just tell me where to contact you 🙂