Peter didn’t write back to my text for almost twenty-four hours. Just as I was starting to think I blew it, he sent me this, ‘Bet my crazy day tops your crazy day. What’s your week like?’
We made plans to grab dinner later in the week. I also texted Ashley to see how she was doing.
‘I tried the ole hickey trick and it worked. Thank you for that information, middle school sleepover parties,’ she wrote.
‘What’s the hickey trick?’ I wrote back.
‘Use a comb and work it over the hickey, gets the circulation moving or something,’ she responded.
I found it absolutely absurd that we were talking about a bruise on her neck, left by her monster of a boyfriend, like it was a hickey. But I’d spent the day on various domestic violence websites (which was surreal), and from what I’d been able to glean, putting the ‘victim’ (also surreal that Ashley is a victim) on the defense would only alienate her more. The best course of action was to withhold judgment on him, and on her decision to stay with him, and instead stress how wonderful/amazing/special a person Ashley is, and how I'm concerned she isn't being appreciated as such. Passing judgment is a gene coded into my DNA, I’m sure of it, so this was going to be a challenge for me.
I woke up early on Monday, went to a spin class, and hit up the fancy market on my walk home, where I spent a small fortune on cheese (necessary). The first episode of Social Media featuring moi was airing that night, and a few friends were coming over to my apartment for a little viewing party. It took all of my willpower to keep from diving into the Gruyere when I got back to my apartment. It was only 8 AM. Inappropriate.
I’d invited Nina, Kate, Kevin, and Ashley, though I didn’t actually expect her to show. I hadn't invited Richard because I'd invited Peter, but Peter couldn't make it because he had a work event. Now, I was on the fence about inviting Richard, especially because the theme of that morning’s spin class had been about making peace—with ourselves, with the pigeons of discontent in our lives. Plus, I know Kate would wonder why Richard wasn’t there and I couldn’t lie and say I’d invited him but he couldn’t make it, because she was still in touch with him and there was a chance she would bring it up to him, like, “Missed you at Josie’s party!” And then he would be like, “Wait, Josie had a party and didn’t invite me?” And Kate would wonder why I lied and Richard would sink into an even deeper depression, having lost his job and his friends, and with little motivation to go on he’d be forced to abandon his dreams of being a writer, move home at twenty-eight years old, and mow his parents lawn to cover his share of the electricity bill. I couldn’t have that on my conscience!
So, with the intent of making peace and preventing a Richard meltdown, I texted him and invited him.
When I arrived at work, I got the shock of my life. William was in his office, already plugging away at his computer. It was 8:55 AM. The earliest I’d ever seen William in the office was 10, and even then it was only because he had a meeting with the CFO of the company and he’d bitched about it for days.
“Hi,” I knocked on his door. “How come you’re in so early?”
William spun around in his seat. He had a big grin on his face. “It’s Monday morning. Time to start our day. Time to start our lives, honey buns!” Gross.
William pointed his finger at me. “Don’t tell HR I said that.” He placed his meaty palms flat on his desk. “Just got some good news this weekend, and I was too excited to sleep.” He nodded to the piece of paper in my hand. “So what have you got for me?” I’d been on my way to leave the cover of the latest New York Mag issue on his desk. The infamous Grumpy Cat was on the cover, with the coverline, Boom Brands.
“Have you seen this?” I asked, walking over to him and handing him the cover.
William sighed. “Sometimes I loathe the world we live in.”
It was something Megan would have said. But the difference between William and Megan was that William listened when I told him I thought we needed to open our scope even more now. We’d started off with celebrity memoirs, now we were on to bloggers. These boom brands were the next big thing, and we had to be the ones to scoop up the Grumpy Cats of the world, whip together a cute little picture book that would make for the perfect coffee table book or stocking stuffer, and then rake it in.
“Great. Find me the next meanie cat,” William said when I was done.
“Um, Grumpy Cat,” I said.
William waved his hand irritably. “Whatever. Can you get me a latte?” He put both hands on his rotund middle. “Skim. I’m watching my figure.”
It’s like he was daring me to tweet about him, hashtag #Sh&tMyBossSays.
Social Media had secured a 9 PM time slot. The first two episodes had been a little ho-hum, in my opinion, and the Internet community seemed to agree—the show hadn’t garnered much press at all. I couldn’t decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing. The shows that seem to take off and net a ton of attention usually involve drunken cat fights, occasional violence, tan fake breasts, and gaudy displays of wealth that eventually came back to haunt the stars when they are forced to declare bankruptcy come season three. Of course I wanted our show to do well, but if it wasn’t doing well because we lacked all of the above, I was willing to concede defeat.
I’d told everyone to come by around 8. Richard had texted me back to say he’d love to come but he couldn’t stay long enough to watch the show. ‘Kind of awkward but I have a date,’ he wrote.
I started to write back, ‘That’s great!’ realized it sounded fake and insincere, and settled on, ‘No problem. It will be good to catch up.' Nina said she thought he was still trying to make me jealous, but I actually thought exactly the opposite: That was Richard’s attempt to alleviate some of the tension that had crept into our friendship. His way of letting me know he understood nothing was going to happen between us—he was moving on, and there were no hard feelings.
Richard was the third to arrive, behind Kate, who had come over with me straight from work, and Nina, who’d arrived early because she heard there was cheese from the good cheese place.
Richard presented me with a bottle of wine and gave me a hug. Richard has always been trim, but he looked skinnier than when I’d seen him last, and it hadn’t even been that long. “Are you eating?” I asked like a concerned abuelita.
“I’m not drinking,” Richard said. “It’s amazing how quick the weight falls off when you lay off the sauce.”
“What do you mean you’re not drinking?” I asked.
“I just decided to take a break,” Richard said. “Clear my head, keep my focus sharp. At least until I find a new job.”
“How’s that going?” Kate asked.
“I have a few solid leads,” Richard said. “But I’m also kind of working on my own thing.”
“You’re writing?” I asked.
“Eh, not really,” he said. “I don’t really want to talk about it because if it doesn’t take off I don’t want to be that delusional guy who was standing in your kitchen, talking about how it would.”
I was intrigued, but I didn’t press. The idea of branching off on my own has always excited me, but I just don’t see a way to make it happen yet. The book I wrote for Big Apple Publishing barely paid me, and it didn’t even have my name on it. The publisher wanted to print it, especially after they found out that I was going to be talking about it on a TV show, but Bill—my old boss who I was in touch with here and there—recommended I stick to the pen name. ‘If you ever want to be a serious author,’ he’d written me, ‘I’d strongly recommend that you use a pen name with this.’
After that, the rest of my friends started rolling in—Kevin, and then, shockingly, Ashley. Oh, but that wasn’t the shocking part. Nope, the shocking part was that Ashley arrived with Tom.
I’ve only ever had the urge to be violent with someone once in my life, and that was with my ex-boyfriend, Eric, the night he told me he’d cheated on me. It literally took all of my willpower not to throw a chair at him, and I had to tell him to leave because I was so enraged I was afraid of what I might do. I felt that feeling again now, especially because Tom was gripping Ashley’s hand, a little bit too tightly, and he had a big, shit eating grin on his face and nary a mark on his body, which I could clearly see because unlike Ashley, he didn’t have to cover up his bruises with a bulky turtleneck. What a piece of shit, this guy.
I locked eyes with Nina. By the expression on her face, she was feeling the exact same way.
“There’s the big star,” Ashley said, enveloping me in a hug. She was overcompensating, trying to placate my rage by being extra sweet, her way of proving everything was peachy-keen. Ashley was never this gushy with me.
“Hey,” Tom said, thrusting a too-expensive bottle of champagne into my hands. Then he hugged me. And I hugged him back, because what else could I do?
“Hi,” I said coldly, tightly gripping the bottle in my hand, contemplating taking a swing at his balls with it. “I should put this on ice,” I said, and made a beeline for the kitchen.
Nina followed me. “What the fuck?” she hissed, when we were alone.
“I know,” I said.
“You hugged him!” Nina seethed.
I turned around. “What do you expect me to do, Nina? We talked about this. We push her away if we push him away.”
“I can’t do it,” Nina said. “I have to go. I can’t be in the same room as that asshole.”
“Nina!” I called after her. But she’d already unhooked her jacket from the back of a chair. She gave Tom the evil eye as she stormed past him. “You’re not fooling anyone,” is all she said to him, and Tom gave her a look, all innocent, like, ‘Whatever do you mean?’ Ashley looked at the ground, her cheeks burning red.
My apartment rattled as Nina slammed the door behind her. Everyone froze, wide eyed. “What was that about?” Kate whispered behind me.
“You don’t want to know,” I said.
Thankfully Tom and Ashley only stayed through the end of the show—in which I had about 90 seconds air time total. I needed more lipstick and a spray tan but other than that I looked pretty good. I'd had nightmares that I'd see myself in high def and realize I needed a face lift or something. Richard had to leave before it even began, but told me he had it DVRd back at his place. By 10, everyone had cleared out. I was cleaning up cheese rinds (Nina certainly didn't leave hungry) and washing out wine glasses when I heard my phone vibrating. I dried my hands off, and rushed over to my bag, thinking it might be Peter. I thought it might be him asking how everything went. But when I retrieved my phone, I saw that it was from a number I didn’t recognize.
“Hello?” I said.
“Josie?” It was a woman’s voice.
“This is Josie,” I said. “Who is this?”
And because the universe decided that Tom wasn’t enough toxicity for the evening, the voice said, “It’s Elizabeth.”