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FICTION
In Deep Water
Helen Power

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She was trapped. There was only one way out, and it was just out of reach. The faint red glow of the exit sign beckoned enticingly.

Lizzy turned her attention back to the crinkly-haired man who blocked her path to freedom. “You’re sure this isn’t a job search seminar?” Lizzy asked, failing to hide the panic in her voice.

The man, who had introduced himself as ‘Harry’, nodded his head gravely.

Lizzy frowned. She reached into the front pocket of her purse and pulled out the flyer, which had lured her here at such an early hour on a Saturday morning. She studied the text closely.

Dr. Augustus Shark presents: “In Deep Water: Tear through Rejection and Float to the Surface”

The title was vague and didn’t make much sense, but apparently this seminar was about romantic rejection, not job rejection. Why hadn’t she considered that earlier? Sure, she’d had a few (all right, several) shots last night at the bar. She’d been ‘celebrating’ another failed interview. She was told by the hiring committee that not only had she not gotten the job, but they were reposting the position. They’d said they were looking for someone with more experience for their unpaid internship. She wished they’d realized this before she’d traded in her elastic-waist pants for less flexible slacks. In hindsight, maybe she shouldn’t have pulled out her harmonica when asked about hobbies. Anyway, at some point during her drunken escapades, this flyer had appeared in her lap.

Harry watched her, mouth agape. Lizzy’s cheeks burned crimson. Had she said all that out loud? It was a mortifying habit that had gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion.

She quickly extricated herself from Harry and strode towards the exit. She was definitely not looking for a relationship right now. She needed to focus on her career, pathetic as it was.

A flash of bright purple contrasted with neon orange caught her eye. She glanced its way and stopped dead in her tracks.

The offending color combination belonged to a purple satin dress and a wide-brimmed orange hat, both of which were worn by an older woman, who walked with an air of grace and self-confidence that everyone else at the seminar lacked. It wasn’t this sophistication, or the fact that the woman had dared to pair those two colors together, that had Lizzy frozen in shock.

It was Dove Womack, CEO of CompureTech Incorporated. The company had posted an entry-level position for their marketing department last month. Lizzy had pored over the job ad zealously. It was her dream job. She’d written a somewhat desperate cover letter begging for the position, but she hadn’t even been contacted for an interview.

Of course she hadn’t. She was fresh out of college, (if having graduated six months ago could still be considered “fresh”), and they were probably looking for someone with more experience for their ‘entry-level’ position, just like everyone else was. How was she supposed to get experience if companies would only hire people with experience?

The lights dimmed, hushing the crowd. Multicolored spotlights illuminated a single figure standing on the stage. Lizzy followed Ms. Womack into the seating area. She wasn’t leaving just yet.

Techno-music blared across the hall. Lizzy jumped, bumping into someone who was standing awfully close to her.

“Sorry!” She spun around and quickly stifled a groan when she saw who it was. Harry had found her. She put her finger to her lips and pointed to the stage, as if she were dying to hear what Dr. Shark had to say about finding love in the big sea of Seattle.

Up on stage, Dr. Shark did a little dance while the audience roared. The music abruptly stopped, leaving Dr. Shark awkwardly finishing his routine in near silence.

His powerful voice echoed across the hall. “Welcome! I’m glad to see such a large turnout. I’m sure many of you are already Shark-bait,” he gave an exaggerated wink, “but I know that some of you are new. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Dr. Augustus Shark.”

A low murmur of awe crept across the crowd.

Harry leaned toward Lizzy. “His real name is Niles Milton.”

Lizzy choked back a snicker.

Dr. Shark continued, “I am New York Times Bestselling author of Smelling Love in the Water and How to be a Hammerhead in Bed.”

Again, the crowd responded.

Again, Lizzy looked longingly toward the exit. Was this worth it? The sight of Ms. Womack’s pylon-colored hat among the sea of hair kept her locked in place.

Dr. Shark boasted about his accomplishments, which included hosting hundreds of seminars, selling millions of books, and climbing Mount Everest.

“I would like to ask a volunteer to come onstage.”

This was her chance.

Lizzy’s hand shot into the air so quickly that she nearly knocked the glasses off Harry’s shiny nose.

“You, on the side, with the asparagus-green blazer and the Bieber hair.”

He could only mean one person. Lizzy dashed to the stage.

Dr. Shark was awfully short. The top of his head only reached Lizzy’s chin, despite his three-inch lifts. He wore a shimmery silk shirt, which was unbuttoned halfway, revealing his glossy, hairless chest underneath. He was balding, and he had clearly invested money in hair plugs, but rather than extending his hairline, they made him look like a Chia pet sprouting new growth.

He really shouldn’t have commented on her bad hair.

 “What is your name?” Dr. Shark asked while still facing the crowd.

“Elizabeth Pitts,” she croaked into the microphone he waved under her nose. She scanned the audience, but the spotlights were so bright that she couldn’t find Ms. Womack despite her radioactive outfit.

“So, you’ve had problems with rejection?” His tone was syrupy and sympathetic.

“Yes.” It wasn’t untrue.

Dr. Shark looked Lizzy up and down. “You’re young,” he stated matter-of-factly. “You have plenty of time to find love, start a family. Tell me, what is your five year plan?”

Lizzy seized the microphone and faced the audience. “In five years, I see myself working in a junior-level position in a marketing department for a Seattle-based tech company. I will be thriving toward becoming VP of Strategic Communications at a company like CompureTech. I’m driven, detail-oriented, and I have innovative ideas that I would like to see implemented—“

Dr. Shark wrenched the mic from her hand. Lizzy squinted, peering out into the crowd. Had Ms. Womack heard? Was she impressed?

Dr. Shark looked strained, but it was hard to tell with all the Botox injections. “I meant, where do you see yourself romantically? Do you see yourself married? Maybe with a little one on the way?”

That wasn’t even in her ten-year plan.

Lizzy licked her lips. “Yes?”

Dr. Shark stared daggers at her. This wasn’t going the way she had hoped. The audience was deathly silent. They were waiting for her to elaborate.

Lizzy rummaged around in her purse. She should have brought her harmonica.

“What are you looking for?” Dr. Shark hissed, his teeth gritted into a glittering smile for the audience’s sake.

“A pin. I want to see if I can hear it drop.”

Dr. Shark’s eyes narrowed.

Lizzy pulled out a thick wad of resumes just as something heavy slammed against her back, knocking her to the floor.

She struggled to get up, but she was pinned to the ground.

“Stay down!” A shaky voice ordered from above her.

Lizzy twisted her head over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of the sweaty, rotund security guard who was sitting on her.

“I was pulling out resumes!”

The security guard glanced around, his pudgy cheeks turning beet-red. He slid off her and returned to the shadows without so much as a “Sorry ‘bout that”.

Lizzy clambered to her feet and turned to Dr. Shark.

“Just go!” he whispered.

Lizzy hastily gathered her resumes, which had scattered across the stage. Dr. Shark and the audience waited in awkward silence.

Lizzy trudged back to her spot along the wall, scanning the crowd. Had Ms. Womack seen all that?

“Are you okay?” Harry asked.

“I was jumped by a security guard. I’ve had more action today than most people here have had in months.”

Dr. Shark questioned the next volunteer, a forty-year-old man who lived in his mother’s basement. His five-year plan involved falling in love and getting married, but he didn’t mention finding his own place to live. Maybe he expected his future wife to move in with him to enjoy the free rent and home-cooked meals.

Dr. Shark then proceeded to lecture on priorities. Apparently, money wasn’t everything. Focusing on your career would only give you some satisfaction in life. Lizzy rolled her eyes, but the rest of the crowd was completely enraptured by his cliché message.

Next, Dr. Shark promoted his networking system and online dating app. Members had to pay to level up, and they were required to recruit at least two new followers once they reached level three. Lizzy shook her head when the sign-up sheet came her way. She recognized a pyramid scheme when she saw one.

At the end of the seminar, Dr. Shark gave a spiel about a commune he had started in the wilderness of Michigan. Singles could move there and join a ‘rustic’ community, where technology was forbidden, everyone engaged in manual labor, and finding love was the top priority.

That sounded ominous.

The seminar was followed by a reception. Dr. Shark autographed books at a table in the back. Lizzy scanned the dense crowd, but she couldn’t spot Ms. Womack, despite her flashy outfit.

By the time Lizzy had made her way to the center of the room, she had a pocketful of phone numbers she didn’t want. But she hadn’t had the heart to reject any of the ludicrously confident guys who had offered them.

Lizzy looked around for the Ms. Womack, but she couldn’t spot her among the sea of teeming singles. She accidentally made eye contact with one man while scanning the crowd. She quickly glanced away, but it was too late. He was already coming in for the kill.

Lizzy spun around, bumping into another man who had set his sights on her.  Grimacing, Lizzy backed away. She fastidiously avoided meeting the eye of yet another man who sensed her weakness. She was surrounded by sharks and there was no escape in sight.

A strong hand gripped Lizzy’s arm and expertly led her around the sharks, toward the edge of the crowd. 

As soon as she was out of the danger zone, Lizzy looked at her savior.  It was Harry.

“Thanks,” she said, surprised. 

Harry smiled. “You looked like a fish out of water out there. The first time at one of these events can be really intimidating.”

Lizzy nodded. “‘Shark-bait’ are surprisingly predatory.” She glanced around nervously, but since she was with Harry, she was mostly ignored. 

Harry laughed. “Thirsty?” He handed her a plastic cup.

“Thanks,” she said again, this time more hesitantly.  She was grateful for the rescue, but she hoped that he didn’t assume that meant he had a ‘claim’ on her.

Lizzy took a deep sip, but spat it back into the cup, uneasily. Were they actually serving Kool-Aid?

This whole experience had been bizarre. But maybe one good thing had come out of it. She scanned the crowd yet again for the elusive Ms. Womack.

 “The woman standing beside Dr. Shark is his fiancée, Evelyn,” Harry said, tearing Lizzy’s attention back to him.

“He isn’t even married?”

“Oh, he’s been married. Evelyn will be his fourth wife.”

“He has three ex-wives? He definitely should be giving romantic advice. ” Lizzy’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

“You’re missing the point!” Harry exclaimed. “He’s gotten three women to marry him!”

Lizzy rolled her eyes. She had seen Dr. Shark up close, so she supposed that was an accomplishment.

She absentmindedly took another sip of her drink and quickly spat it out again. Nobody was dropping dead—at least, not in her immediate vicinity—but she still couldn’t be sure there wasn’t some kind of psychedelic drug in the Kool-Aid. It would explain why Dr. Shark was so popular. She needed to dump her drink before she accidentally consumed some of it.

Lizzy caught a flash of purple in her peripheral vision.

Harry fidgeted. “So, I was pretty impressed by--”

“Hold this.” Lizzy thrust her drink towards Harry and dove into the crowd.

She zigzagged through the pack of singles desperate to make connections before the servers ran out of canapés. Once those were gone, the crowd would begin to thin.

Lizzy floated in the center of the mob, slightly disoriented. She was surrounded by sharks, and she could only hope that no one would smell her blood.

She was abruptly handed a canapé by a passing server. A Ritz cracker garnished with a single olive slice. Lizzy took a bite, but it was stale. She covertly slipped the rest into a stranger’s oversized handbag.

The tip of the orange hat bobbed along the sea of teeming singles. Again, Lizzy waded toward her prey.

She finally broke through the surface of the crowd. Ms. Womack stood in the autograph line, clutching all three of Dr. Shark’s books to her irradiated chest.

“Ms. Womack?”

Lizzy received an encouraging smile in response.

“I’m Elizabeth Pitts. I’m--”

“I know who you are,” Ms. Womack said. “I was quite impressed by your performance.”

Lizzy’s heart raced. “I would love to talk to you about the open position in your—“

“I’ll stop you right there,” Ms. Womack said. “As of twenty minutes ago, I am no longer CEO, and I no longer work for CompureTech.”

Lizzy gaped at her.

“I have decided to take an early retirement. The Shark Love Commune seems like an idyllic change of locale.”

Had she missed the part about “manual labour”? The first female CEO of CompureTech had quit her job to join a cult? “Can you recommend me--”

“Listen, dear. CompureTech is no place for a young lady like yourself. A company like that can suck out your soul, consume your life, and before you know it, you’re sixty years old, single, and attending self-help seminars to figure out where you went wrong.”

“But--”

“No buts. You’ll find your place. It’s just not with CompureTech.” Her tone was final. She floated along with the natural flow of the line, leaving Lizzy in her wake.

She’d been rejected. Again. By a woman who was joining a cult.

“That was rough,” a voice said behind her right ear.

Lizzy spun around, fists at the ready, but it was Harry. Again. He still held her cup.

She’d had enough of this. “Listen, Harry, you seem nice, but I’m not looking to date right now.”

Harry looked bewildered.

“I’m here because I thought this was a job search seminar. I misread the flyer. To be honest, the wording is a little violent for a relationship book.”

Harry burst out laughing. This wasn’t the reaction she was expecting.

“You told me that earlier.” He paused. “Do you seriously not remember me?”

It was suddenly Lizzy’s turn to look bewildered.

“We met yesterday. At your interview?”

Lizzy’s eyes widened. She did remember him. He’d been standing in the back of the room when the search committee had bombarded her with questions about job experience she didn’t have.

“I told them afterwards that they should give you a chance. You had some interesting ideas for outreach, and I particularly liked your harmonica playing. They’ll be calling you on Monday to offer you the position.”

“You knew who I was all along? Why didn’t you say something?”

“I didn’t want to be creepy.”

“So instead you followed me around all day?”

Harry shrugged sheepishly.

The weight lifted from Lizzy’s shoulders. She had a job. It wasn’t the best job in the field—heck, it wasn’t even paid—but at least she would finally get experience.

“Wait—why are you here?”

Harry’s cheeks flamed redder than his hair. “To find love.”

Lizzy laughed, took her cup from his outstretched hand, and drank the Kool-Aid. 


Helen Power is a librarian living in Windsor, Canada. In her spare time, she haunts deserted cemeteries, loses her heart to dashing thieves, and cracks tough cases, all from the comfort of her writing nook.