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I plucked an ornament from my miniature Christmas tree and attempted not to sound disappointed.

“I was telling this author about you and your story, and she’s agreed to blurb it!” She practically squealed. “She’s also going to ask her editor to feature your first two chapters at the back of her first printed book! If that’s okay with you, that is.”

The bitter taste of disappointment immediately evaporated and I cried, agreeing with a loud “Yes!” I now felt that there was a silver lining to all of the previous setbacks.

Just a few weeks later, I received the blurb from the smash indie author, Brooke Clarkson. It read, “The Truth Behind the Mile High Club is a beautiful, eye opening, and poignant debut. Ms. G’s prose unravels like a silk yarn and will keep you up all night!”

I printed her words on a poster and framed it in my apartment, high above my desk so I could see it every morning before work. By then, I’d made it past the fourth round of flight attendant training and I was sure I’d be employed by the time I started writing the sequel.

Mile High Club was finally slated to come out in the spring, a full year and a half from when it was originally guaranteed to publish. My boss at The Times had planned a release party, a few early review copies were being printed, and I was still waiting to tell anyone about it; I needed it to be in my hands and real first.

However, just as I was getting excited about the many possibilities of being a published author, the very paper I worked for ran a dream-de-railing headline that altered any hopes I was clinging to:

Smash Indie Author, Brooke Clarkson, to Publish New Book: The Mile High Club Unveiled

I grabbed the paper and simply skimmed the article, hoping this was some type of joke, but it wasn’t. Her book sounded just like mine, and before I could ask my agent why I was never informed about this, my boss at The Times slammed an advance copy of Brooke’s book onto my desk.

“Raymond is out with the flu and won’t be able to review this in time,” he said. “It’s not due to release for another three months, but he apparently stalked the publisher, insisting that we get a copy. You mind doing a short write up?”

The question was rhetorical. He walked away shortly after asking.

I stared at the book for an hour before flipping open its dust jacket, wanting to believe that her cover was only an homage to mine. That maybe, just maybe, there were only so many photos of planes worthy of being on the cover of a mass printed book.

I started reading chapter one and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

This was my fucking book. This was my fucking story.

Every word from my novel had been lifted and repurposed, masked under a more refined and rigid prose. Yet still, the blatant plagiarism shone through the ink.

I flipped through the entire book, recognizing sentence structures and words I’d already written months before. As tears of anger fell down my face, I forced myself to actually read every word of the article in The Times, to see if she would, at the very least, credit me for her stolen work.

“I have a friend who works in the airline industry,” she was quoted two paragraphs in. “I managed to snag a short two-month stint as a flight attendant and I’m excited to share this story with my readers.”

When asked for the inspiration behind her story, she said, “Well, I’ve always wanted to write what I would enjoy reading. I was on a plane one day and I saw this flight attendant who looked like she had a story to tell. All of a sudden, I wanted to be in her shoes, know about her life, so I took that moment and decided to craft something semi fictional, but very meta-world.”

At the bottom of the interview, there were a few lightning-round questions. One in particular stood out: “Did you read any books about flight attendants, aviation, or pilots while working on your novel?’

“Not at all,” she’d answered. “I’ve actually never read any book regarding the airline industry. I crafted the story first and then I consulted a few experts for technicalities. I try my best to never, ever, read any other author’s work while I write.”

Her lies cut deep, but the bolded line at the bottom of the article struck me the hardest: “For inquiries and further information about The Mile High Club Unveiled, contact the author’s agent: Kimberly B.”

I’d never known heartbreak before that moment, never knew what it felt like to feel as if my heart had been yanked from my chest and stomped on repeatedly. I tried not to cry too loudly, but the thought of holding back tears only made me cry more.

Not only did Brooke’s book come out a full three months before mine, it shot up the bestsellers’ charts. And it stayed there. For weeks. Her book was on the tip of every reputable critic’s tongue, and publishers were clamoring for more stories ‘just like it.’ However, when my book finally debuted, it was cruelly dismissed as a “knock off,” and the critics labeled it as “Nowhere near as good as its predecessor,” and “For a debut, Ms. G. should know better than to so obviously copy her superior.”

I never opened a single envelope from my publisher after that. I tossed them all to the side in various corners of my apartment—keeping them as close and distant reminders of a tarnished dream. I stopped answering Kimberly’s phone calls and emails—the few that came anyway, and as much as it hurt me financially, I returned my twenty-five thousand-dollar advance for the sequel to the publisher.

I was too hurt to write anything else for them again.