Novel Excerpt: The Woman In the Church
I’d known Stephanie was up to something with her new, slick look. She’d spent a lot of money to change how she presented herself, and it was clear it wasn’t about a man. It had to be about her career, and that made me wonder how it played into Trystan’s demand that I become her mentor.
So far, her personality hadn’t changed to match her appearance. I wasn’t sure it ever would. Although she looked quite nice—successful and approachable—her religious zeal was part of her DNA. I couldn’t imagine her doing a makeover on that. She was still a woman bleeding desperation, and I had a feeling her desperate blood was going to get all over me.
Now that Trystan had made it clear I was going to mentor Stephanie whether I liked it or not, I was trying to figure out precisely what that meant. First of all, he wanted a written plan for my mentoring project. I suppose most people would search the internet for information on what positive mentoring relationships entailed, what the desired outcomes were, and how to be successful as a mentor. But what I really needed to know was how I was going to tolerate the over-sensitivity and short temper and neediness and self-doubt that were Stephanie. Tips on navigating those obstacles were not to be found on the internet.
Stephanie was not going to like, or willingly accept, a single piece of advice I gave her on how to become a good photographer, which was Trystan’s goal. I had no idea what Stephanie’s goal was, and maybe my first step should have been to ask her that question. But I didn’t do that. I was looking for the easiest path possible—the strategy for wrapping this up in the shortest amount of time I could manage.
I was pretty sure Stephanie would appreciate that. She didn’t want to be around me any more than I wanted to be in the same room with her. However, she did want my job, and that was not going to happen.
I was an excellent photographer. The skills I possessed could not be taught. I could not teach Stephanie to look at people with detachment. I could not teach her to talk to them in a way that made them forget about the photographer and their tendency to perform for the camera. I could not teach Stephanie how to interact with people in a way that enticed them to let down their guard and say what was really on their minds. These skills led to photographs that exposed what was below the surface.
None of those things had been covered in the photography class I’d taken. They weren’t covered in any photography class and probably not in a classroom at all. I just knew these things because I’d spent my life watching how people behave. Stephanie, it seemed to me, had spent her life watching for people to make mistakes.
She was so enthralled with her religious views, she was blind to the true nature of other people.
I couldn’t understand how she’d managed to raise a dynamic, savvy daughter like Eileen. It was a mystery, and I wondered if even Eileen or Stephanie knew the answer to that question. Eileen had none of her mother’s religious rules and none of her mother’s anxious, awkward neediness. It was that neediness I disliked most of all. It was exhausting and off-putting. Being around her made most people feel as if they had to take care of her, watching out for her feelings. That was not the way to become a competent, confident professional photographer.
Stephanie was dangerous. Fanatics always are. They don’t think things through, and they aren’t careful. They have an agenda that drives everything they think, say, and do.
I was dangerous too, of course, but in a different way. My danger was calculated and planned. Stephanie was the type who could easily get lost in her own fantastical view of the world and end up doing something that destroyed the lives of people around her—our small consulting firm, her daughter, maybe even herself. But mostly, me.
This mentoring thing seemed like a test of some kind. If I didn’t do it in a way that was acceptable to Trystan, I might lose a job that kept me entertained and paid me quite well. It wasn’t as if I had a solid work history with excellent references that would easily get me a new position, especially one with the freedom and creative energy this one offered.
Sure, Tess would give me a good reference. So might Trystan if I didn’t drive my mentee over the edge, but that wasn’t enough.
I didn’t want to go back to social media management or data analysis or any of the things I’d done in the past. I liked taking pictures, and I didn’t want to stop. I liked watching people through a camera lens. So for now, there was no choice but to help Stephanie become a photographer, starting with a plan for how I would hold her hand and make her feel she could trust my advice and trust me. Because that’s what a mentor does. I did Google that part.