"ToB" has come back to me. As with this story's first outing, the polite and friendly editor has taken the time to write a personal note. In this case, he praised the style, and criticized the length and the finale. Like the first editor to have seen this story, he invited me to submit other work.
I call that a pretty solid sophomore outing for this story.
"Fail better," I say to myself. Except I'm not actually sure there is a better type of rejection than this--one step up the ladder lies acceptance.
(If only this wasn't my best work! It quite outshines the other stories I've written since. I guess that's where the "fail better" will have to come in.)