The friendship separation with Ashley was feeling more and more official every day that went by that we didn't speak, and I decided it was time to reconnect with some friends I hadn't seen in a while. I started with Kevin.
Kevin was recently single, and he told me he was going to treat himself to a new suit as a consolation prize. He had an appointment at this custom men's clothing store that had been featured on an episode of Suits. "Come," he said. "A woman's opinion helps when you're trying to pretend you're straight for your career."
Michael Andrews Bespoke is on Great Jones street and looks like a set designer's conception of a cool store in New York—something you'd see in a movie that doesn't actually exist in real life. Sort of like the enormous doorman apartments on Fifth Avenue that all the female leads in every New York based rom-com live in (throwing shade at you in particular, Andi Anderson). Michael Andrews Bespoke is designed to resemble the Mad Men era, with kitschy wallpaper and 50s style furniture, a beautiful oak bar, and an even more beautiful model who greets you at the door and takes the wind right out of your sails even though you really liked your outfit that day.
Kevin had an appointment with someone named Morrison. I scanned the stylists while we sipped the drinks that the Glamazon had brought us, and immediately zeroed in on an Ed Westwick look alike in an impeccable suit, brown hair to his shoulders, working an intense lockjaw when he spoke. "Please God, let that be Morrison," Kevin whispered to me, and I nodded intently.
The Gods must have been listening, because Ed Westwick's doppelganger made his way over to us and introduced himself as Morrison. Both Kevin and I fixed him with our most charming smiles.
Over the next hour, Morrison brought out fabric book after fabric book, going over every damn stitch and shade of blue imaginable. And I thought finding the perfect pair of skinny jeans was hard—so much goes into making a custom suit! At one point I couldn't help myself and I yawned.
"I think we're boring your girlfriend." Morrison winked at Kevin.
"I'm not his girlfriend," I said at the same time Kevin said, "She's not my girlfriend."
"Oh," Morrison said. Then he smiled a smile that would be just cause for mothers to lock away their teenage daughters. "Good to know."
As soon as Morrison went into the back to get another fabric book, Kevin and I turned to each other and grinned. "So hot," Kevin said.
"So hot," I agreed.
"Should I ask him for his number?" Kevin asked.
"Wait," I said. "What? No. He's straight."
Kevin laughed. "He's blatantly hitting on me."
"Squeeze me," I said. "He's blatantly hitting on me."
"Let's make this interesting," Kevin said. "One hundred bucks he's gay." He stuck out his hand.
"One hundred bucks he's straight," I said, and shook Kevin's hand.
Morrison returned from the back room and he and Kevin finished up the appointment. As we were putting on our coats, Kevin said, "I hope you have fun plans for later. It'd be a shame to waste that suit." Damn him! That sneaky bastard had gotten the jump on me.
Morrison ran his fingers through his beautiful hair. "Ah, I'm here until seven. Then I've got this thing." He nodded at his co-worker. "Going away party for this guy."
"Oh?" I chimed in. "Where's he going?"
"Hong Kong," Morrison said. "To see up our new operation."
"Very cool," Kevin gushed, and I had to dig my nails into my palms to keep from rolling my eyes. Am I that lame and obvious when I flirt too? Ugh, probably.
Morrison disappeared into the back with his co-worker for a bit. When he came out, he leaned on his elbow and tucked his hair behind his ear. "Hey, you guys wanna come tonight? Should be a good time."
I looked at Kevin. "We'd love to."
Morrison gave us all the party details. "Oh, that's right in my neighborhood," I said.
"Really?" Morrison said. "Where? I'll swing by and grab you on my way uptown."
I could feel Kevin prickle beside me. He was wishing he didn't live in the Financial District so hard at the moment.
I put my number in Morrison's phone. "Why don't you give me yours too?" Morrison said to Kevin, flashing that smile again. "Just in case." Kevin rattled off his number faster than you could say underdog.
"It doesn't mean anything that he's picking you up," Kevin hissed as we stepped out onto the street.
"Ohhhh, I think it does," I taunted, even though to be totally honest, I wasn't really sure myself.
"Well, tonight will tell," Kevin said.
A few hours later, I was standing outside my apartment building, waiting for Morrison. He had texted me that he was close, and to come downstairs.
My street is pretty empty, so when I saw a cab idle to a stop in front of my building, I knew it was him. I stepped to the curb, and opened the door.
"Hi," I said.
Morrison's eyes flicked up and down my body, and I felt a warmth spread through my limbs. He was checking me out—this guy was totally straight. I was just about to climb into the cab when he stopped me.
"Wait," he said. "Is that what you're wearing?"
I glanced down at my outfit. I was wearing a leather (fine, pleather) skirt and a black t-shirt. "Why?"
"It's just that...." Morrison brought his fingers to his mouth and furrowed his brow,"it's just not really a dress kind of party."
"It's a skirt," I said.
Morrison narrowed his eyes at the offending garment. "I just don't want you to be uncomfortable. You looked so great in what you were wearing earlier."
"I can go up and change into jeans?" I suggested.
"If you want," Morrison said, like the whole thing was my idea. "They would look great with the tee you have on and like a long pendant necklace."
I turned and trudged back to my apartment, tail between my legs. No straight guy tells you your outfit is bad and then gives you extremely detailed instructions on how to fix it. Also, straight guys don't say tee. Tee! That's fashion blog speak. Now I owed Kevin a hundred dollars and I really needed to put that towards a bikini and eyebrow wax. I had let myself get a little wild since I wasn't getting any at the moment.
I changed into skinny jeans and booties, realized I had no idea WTF a 'pendant' necklace was and if I owned one, so I googled it. Turns out I do, a tarnished one from Urban Outfitters, so I looped that over my head.
When I attempted to climb into the cab this time, Morrison didn't try to stop me. "You look hot now," he said. "Very model off duty." I mean if I had a dollar for every time someone said I looked like a model, I'd have, let's see...ZERO DOLLARS. He was clearly overcompensating and trying to make me feel good because he'd insulted me earlier. Nina was at Brad's apartment right now, drinking beer and playing Apples to Apples, and I was so wishing I was on my way there instead of where I was going.
We arrived at the party and there were gorgeous hipster-y girls in black skinny jeans, black tees, and long pendant necklaces as far as the eye could see. Was this like the cool girl uniform and I'd missed the memo?
"There's your friend." Morrison nodded across the room, and I spotted Kevin. "I'm going to get a drink, you want anything?"
I asked for a vodka soda and made my way over to Kevin. I passed a crowd of people bent over a hot pink coffee table, blatantly doing coke.
"I'm not cool enough to be here," I said to Kevin.
Kevin brushed his shoulder off. "Speak for yourself."
"Anyway," I said. "Pretty sure you won."
"Yes," Kevin pumped his fist int he air. "Did he say it was love at first sight with me? He did, didn't he?"
"Calm down," I said.
Kevin poked me in the ribs. "Don't be a sore loser. I won't really make you pay me. I'm not that mean."
I stayed for a few drinks, but by eleven, I was ready to go. "I'm going to stop by Nina's boyfriend's place," I said to Kevin. "He's having a few people over. Want to come?"
Kevin wanted to stay, so I gave him a hug goodbye and went to find Morrison. I hadn't seen much of him since we'd gotten there. I tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey," I said. "I'm going to take off."
Morrison pouted. "We hardly got to hang out."
"It's okay!" I said. "Thank you for inviting me. It was fun."
"What's your schedule like this week?" Morrison asked. "We should grab a drink or something."
"I usually work pretty late," I said. "But maybe Wednesday?"
"Wednesday works." Morrison gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Bye, gorgeous."
Well, he wasn't interested in purchasing my goods, but I could always use a friend with a keen eye for fashion who could also probably recommend some good hair products. His hair was really shiny.
I sent Nina a text letting her know I was on my way over to Brad's, and hopped on the subway. I didn't bother to check my phone again, and I really wish I had, because Nina had texted me, 'Cool. Just a heads up Ashley is here.' I still would have gone, but I just would have been more mentally prepared to see her.
Ashley had turned it out in a backless tank top and jeans that looked like they had been painted on. She was sitting on some guy's lap when I walked in. We politely nodded to each other and Ashley went back to her canoodling.
"Who's that guy?" I whispered to Nina.
"Kenny," Nina said. "One of Brad's friends."
"Do you like him?"
Nina shrugged. "He seems nice. But I think he gets around a lot."
"Well, whatever," I said. "Maybe a good boinking is what she needs to get over Tom."
I had just cracked open a beer when someone pounded on the door so hard I spilled some of it down my shirt.
"What the fuck?" Brad grumbled, pulling himself off the couch and making his way over to the door. Whoever was on the other side was still pounding.
Brad pulled the door open. "What?"
It was Tom. And his face and bald head were both purple. I was so shocked I didn't even stop to wonder how he knew where Brad lived.
"Tom!" Ashley said. She jumped off of Kenny's lap. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"You wouldn't pick up your phone," he seethed. "And now I see why." He charged at Kenny. Thankfully, Brad stepped in and stopped him.
"Dude," Brad said. "I'm sorry, but you need to go."
"Get the fuck off of me!" Tom shrieked. He shoved Brad off of him so hard Brad crashed into the wall, knocking that same print off its hook that Nina had months ago.
Brad regained his balance. His hands were shaking as he said, "If you don't get out of here right now I'm calling the cops."
"Ashley," Tom said, ignoring Brad, "if you don't come with me I swear to God it's really over. I have never been so serious in my entire life."
I thought it already was over. I glanced at Nina, but she looked just as confused as I did. Ashley had tucked herself into a corner as far away from Tom as possible, and now she took a step towards him.
"Ashley, don't," I said.
Tom spun around and pointed his finger at me. "Stay out of this, bitch."
"That's enough!" Brad said, louder this time. "Get out now or I'm calling the cops."
Tom stared me down for one more second before making his exit. He never took his eyes off of me. It was like he was marking me or something, and a shiver went down my spine.
When he was finally gone, Kenny was the first to speak. "Who the fuck was that?"
"Are you okay?" Nina asked me.
"Not really," I said, shakily. "I've seen too many Lifetime movies to know what happens to the friend who meddles."
"Relax," Nina said. "This is not a Lifetime movie. But I do kind of think you should spend the night here tonight." She nodded at Ashley, who was now sitting on the sofa looking at her hands. "That one too." Nina leaned in close and dropped her voice. "She mentioned she thought he was following her. He could be waiting outside, who knows."
I threw my hands up in the air. "This is just like a Lifetime movie."
The party thinned out after that, and Nina went through the apartment, finding extra pillows and blankets for Ashley and me. Ashley and I didn't speak much beyond figuring out who got what spot on the couch. Brad has one of those L-shaped couches, and I volunteered to take the smaller arm since Ashley is a few inches taller than me.
Everyone went to bed. Curled up on the couch with Ashley's feet by my head, I couldn't take the silence anymore. "Ash, is he really following you?" I asked.
"I don't know," Ashley sighed. "I thought I was just being paranoid. But I don't know how else he would have found me tonight."
"But I thought he...I mean I thought you said he broke up with you. Why would he be following you?"
"He did," Ashley said. "But now he wants to get back together. Says he forgave me." Ashley laughed, bitterly. "Right. Like I'm the one who needs to be forgiven."
I was surprised. Of course I agreed with her, but it was the first time I hadn't heard Ashley make an excuse for him. Maybe some time apart from him had given her some clarity.
"I'm really embarrassed," Ashley said, and I heard her sniffle.
"Ash," I said. "Why are you embarrassed?"
"Because he is such a jackass and it was so obvious but I was too stubborn to listen to you guys."
"Hey," I said. "It's hard to see the truth sometimes, especially when it's right in front of you. How many times did Justin tell me he did not want to be in a relationship, and I just didn't want to believe him? I looked like such a desperado. That's embarrassing."
"I guess," Ashley said.
We were quiet for a really long time. I thought Ashley had gone to sleep, and I was drifting off too when she said, "I'm going to therapy."
"Really?" I asked.
"Yeah. I need to figure out why I'm attracted to these losers who treat me like shit. Luke, now Tom."
"I think that's a good idea," I said. "A professional is going to see things in you that you don't see, that your friends can't even see. It's like we're too close, you know?"
Ashley didn't say anything for a moment. "I didn't mean to come down on you so hard. I know you were just trying your best. It's not like there is a right way to handle a situation like this."
"I just worry that you think life has to be hard," I said. I'd never brought up Ashley's parents before, but I felt like we were being totally transparent, and it was now or never. "I feel like that's the lesson your Mom has imparted on you, and it's just not true. Everything doesn't have to be a struggle. And if something is, maybe it's not worth it."
"My Mom is a miserable bitch and I don't want to be anything like her," Ashley said. I'd never heard Ashley speak about her Mom like that. "I will do anything not to become like her."
Ashley turned over and pulled the covers over her head. After a while, her breathing deepened, and I knew she'd fallen asleep.
Frank called me into his office first thing on Monday morning, which was unusual because Frank made it very clear he does not like to be disturbed on Mondays.
"Do you have any personal conflicts next week?" Frank asked. "Family events? Doctor's appointment?"
"Um, nothing," I said. "Why?"
"I've been asked to go to LA to meet up with some potential clients," Frank said. "I'd like you to come with me. What do you think?"
I thought it sounded awesome. Ian did too. I emailed him the second I got back to my desk.