He nodded to the door behind me. “Close that, if you don’t mind.”

The prickle of nerves turned into full-blown sweating.

A million things went through my mind—every possible thing I could have mishandled in the last few months—and I finally settled on the mess in London. Shit.

“Take a seat,” Malcolm said, straightening some papers in front of him before sitting back in his chair. “How are things going?”

“Good,” I said, and mentally filed through the cases I’d been working on, looking for the updates he’d most want to hear. “Walton Group should close later this month, Petersen Pharma by the end of the year.”

“There have been a few snags with the London office,” I said. He nodded, and I swallowed a lump in my throat. “Nothing we can’t handle, there’ll just be more follow-up than expec—”

“I know you’ve been tracking this,” he said. “I know the situation.”

Malcolm folded his hands on the desk in front of him and considered me for a moment. “Jensen, you know how things work around here. It isn’t enough these days to simply practice good law—almost anyone with a law degree can do that. What we need are associates and partners who make good money for the firm. Who instill confidence and bring in business. Who keep it. You know . . . when I was first starting out, I used to do a rough estimate of my profitability each month.”

My eyes widened and he smiled. “It’s true. I’d tally the hours I billed clients, then offset them against expenses my employer was incurring on my behalf—everything from the salary we paid my secretary to the cost of keeping the lights on in my office. We didn’t have computers back then, so I kept track of it all in a little notebook I kept tucked away in my suit coat pocket. I bought a client lunch, I added it. I needed a box of paperclips, I added it. I kept track of all those numbers because that way I knew when I was profitable, and I knew when I wasn’t. When I sat down with my boss I had it all there, in black and white, the things I was responsible for, the things I had impacted. One day he looked at me and said, ‘Anyone who is this anal-retentive needs to be on my side of the table.’ Shortly after that, I made partner.”

I nodded, not entirely sure where this was going. “Sounds like a great system.”

“I see the same drive, the same dedication in you,” he said. “Hours aren’t the only reason someone makes partner—though I’ve been assured you have more than your fair share, am I right?”

“It takes someone who can handle the important cases with professionalism and efficiency. It takes someone who drives the process, who manages interactions at every level with dexterity, who puts the best face forward for the firm and brings in new clients because they’ve heard such good things. Sure, there might be a snag here and there, such as with the London office, but it’s the people who recognize those snags and work to rectify them who stay in business. You build relationships, and manage the largest group in mergers, and still have the respect of your team.” He paused, leaning forward. “I bet if I asked, you have a little notebook of sorts of your own, don’t you?”

I did. I had a spreadsheet with every client I’d ever had, what I worked on and what we actually billed, from the day I was hired as an associate. “I do,” I said.

He laughed and slapped a hand against the desktop. “I knew it. And that’s why I’m going to recommend you as partner at this meeting we were supposed to join . . .”—he glanced up at the clock—“five minutes ago. Congratulations, Jensen.”

I slumped back into my couch and looked up at the ceiling. If my life was comprised of to-do lists—which, let’s be real, it sort of was—then the item listed at number one would have a bright red check next to it. After the meeting, I had an official offer of partner—I’d finally done it.

So what the hell was the problem? Instead of going out to celebrate with the rest of my team, or calling everyone I knew, I sat alone in my living room, staring at a blank wall.

I straightened my legs and placed them on the coffee table, taking another sip of my beer. I’d accomplished the thing I’d spent the whole of my adult life working toward, but instead of feeling satisfied, I felt restless. The whole thing was anticlimactic. I had essentially worked my way up the ladder to more work, more responsibility, more on my plate.

The second hand on my watch ticked in the silence. I wanted to talk about this with someone, because no doubt anyone in my life would be thrilled for me and would burst this numb bubble. I could call Hanna again; as a workaholic herself, she knew what it meant to be recognized and singled out for her work. But she hadn’t yet returned my call, and I didn’t want to push it if she was genuinely pissed at me.

My parents, as well, would be over the moon. After being married to Mom for nearly forty years, my dad knew more than any of us about the importance of balancing work with a life at home.

The starkness of my bare walls had always been calming; an intentional contrast to the clutter of my office and the constant noise of phones ringing, voices shouting down the hall, shoes clicking on marble. Home had been my gentle, sterile place. It had been my retreat. But it suddenly felt completely lifeless.

And the more I thought about it, the more I knew that what was missing in my home was also missing everywhere in my life: Energy. Spontaneity. Sound and music, laughter and sex, mistakes and triumph.