By Zahra Barnes
As I rubbed my eyes and focused on Grant’s sleeping face, I felt my stomach flutter for what seemed like the millionth time. Even after two years together, I was still shocked I landed a boyfriend who looked like he could have been a long-lost Winklevoss triplet in The Social Network. Grant also happened to be kind, hilarious, and kick-ass at his job at a graphic design firm. As I thought about how lucky I was, he instinctively pulled me closer, like he knew exactly what was going through my mind.
Grant and I met three days after I graduated from Ohio State and moved to New York City. As I squeezed onto the subway that morning, I spotted him instantly. He was eye-wateringly hot and standing in the middle of the car, looking for something in his messenger bag. I nabbed a seat with a good view and pulled out The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest so I wouldn’t be gawking too obviously. I was a lady, after all. Or at least, I tried to be. Right as I flipped the book open, Grant found what he was searching for: his copy of the same Stieg Larsson thriller. He looked up and after we locked eyes, he glanced down and noticed my book. Then he gave me a smile that practically made my clothes leap off my body so I could offer myself to him more easily. I immediately wanted to do filthy things to him and also have every single one of his babies. Biology is scary.
When the train pulled into my stop, I reluctantly prepared myself to leave. Imagine my surprise when Grant disembarked with me. He was right behind me as we walked up the subway stairs, and I thanked every deity I could think of for my decision to wear the jeans that magically gave me an ass-lift. As we emerged into the sunshine, Grant broke the silence. “I liked The Girl Who Played with Fire more, didn’t you?” he asked as though we had been in the middle of a conversation, quickening his pace so we were walking next to each other. We debated the virtues of both books as he walked me to my office, and by the time we got there, we had a date for that Saturday night. We’ve been inseparable ever since. A few months after we started dating, Grant let it slip that he was supposed to get off five stops later, but something told him to follow me off the train. I knew I was hooked because instead of thinking that sounded a bit Norman Bates-y, I swooned. It was a typical meet-cute, except things like that didn’t usually happen to me. I learned life isn’t a romantic comedy a long time ago.
As I gazed at Grant in bed, he cracked one eye open and grinned. “What are you staring at?” he asked in his growly just-woke-up voice, the one that made me all tingly. He shifted and pressed his body against me, and I felt how hard he was. They should amend that famous quote about the consistency of change to say, “The only thing constant in life is morning wood.” Grant always, without fail, wanted to get some first thing in the a.m.
“Nooothing,” I sing-songed innocently while burying my face in a pillow. Grant flipped me on top of him so I was straddling his body and put his hands on my hips. A mischievous look crept over his face and he glanced at the clock.
“I know we have a busy day ahead of us, but what about a little afternoon delight first?” He wiggled his eyebrows at me in the way that always cracks me up.
I was tempted. His penis is so perfect I sometimes wish I could make a mold of it to keep me company when he’s away on business trips. Then again, we really did have a ton to do. I leaned down and whispered in his ear, “You know we’ll never get out of bed if we start.”
Grant laughed and cupped my face, giving me a quick kiss. “You’re right. Okay, let’s go.” He swatted my butt playfully as I groaned and rolled out of bed.
We had our first packed day of Craigslist apartment viewings ahead of us, including my favorite prospect: a massive rent-controlled one-bedroom in the West Village. A month ago, when I offhandedly mentioned that my lease was up soon, Grant nodded slowly in the way he does when he’s filing information away for later. A week passed, then one Saturday over brunch, he casually mentioned us living together. I stopped inhaling my breakfast burrito and froze. “We spend all our time together anyway,” he pointed out while taking a sip of his Bloody Mary. “And since my lease is ending soon too, I thought it would make sense,” he continued, trying to gauge my reaction. He looked calm on the surface, but his fidgeting with a napkin gave him away.
He took a deep breath and added, “Plus, I just think I’m ready to take the next step. You know. In our relationship.” Ding ding ding! That’s what I was waiting for before saying yes, a sign that there was something emotional going on beneath his rational exterior. I did my best impression of a bobblehead and smiled so hard I could put the Cheshire Cat to shame. I was about to move in with my sexy, successful 27-year-old boyfriend. Geeky 14-year-old me would have never believed it. Now we had a spate of places to see and had cleared both our schedules to do so.
“Have you seen my phone?” I asked as I rummaged around through the mussed up sheets. I finally unearthed it from behind a pillow and my stomach dropped when I saw I had five missed calls from my boss Marian. Shit. As an event coordinator at Grey & Boehm, a gallery and performance space in Chelsea, I was basically always on call. We had a reputation for taking on the sort of weird, experimental exhibits other galleries turned away. Marian was one of those slightly scary New York women of an indeterminable age. Everything about her screamed severity: her all black wardrobe, glossy, razor-sharp bob, and clipped way of speaking. Plus, she could serve up a glare that relegated my bitchface to amateur hour. But once you won her over, which I finally thought I had, she was firmly in your corner. The drawback? If she decided she could really depend on you, all boundaries went out the window.
Marian had also texted me: “TESSA. NEED YOU DOWN HERE ASAP. BIG PROBLEMS.” I ignored my low battery warning and called her, praying she was blowing the situation out of proportion. She picked up on the first ring. “Tessa?” she answered brusquely. “Where have you been? Imogen is having a meltdown and she says you’re the only one who speaks her language.”
Imogen Thomas was this out-there artist whose exhibit was supposed to kick off that night. She did this installation piece where she sat naked facing a wall, surrounded by iPhones. They rang and buzzed and flickered with activity, but she just kept staring at the wall, completely unresponsive. It was supposed to speak to our society’s constant bombardment of technology and the emotional fortitude it takes to ignore it all and accept the inevitability of a lonely death. Or something like that. I don’t know, that’s the summary she sent me for the press materials.
“Marian, she’s Australian. She speaks English,” I said slowly, trying to hide my exasperation. Grant was propped up on his elbow, watching me from bed. I turned away, already steeling myself against his disappointment.
“You know what I mean,” Marian huffed impatiently. “Her emotional language.” Marian was always complaining that most artists are needlessly sentimental. “She says the lighting in here is blocking her energy. I don’t see how today’s light is any different from the other times she’s seen it, but she refuses to do the exhibit. You need to get down here now.”
I closed my eyes resignedly, trying not to heave a huge sigh. “Okay, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I spun around and could already see Grant’s good mood deflating.
“I’m so sorry, I need to run down to the gallery,” I started apologetically while yanking open a drawer and hunting for a bra.
Grant was quiet. As I put on my bra and underwear, I took in his disappointed reflection in the mirror and tried to squash my rising guilt. Marian’s approval could put me on the fast track to event planning for the Museum of Modern Art, which had always been my dream.
I turned to face him. “I just need to handle something with the artist. Remember the weird one I told you about who does that staring at the wall bit? She’s being high-maintenance.” I pulled on a colorful shift dress and wedges while Grant just watched me from bed. “It’ll be so quick,” I babbled to fill the silence. You know how when you’re a teenager, you’d rather your parents ground you for eternity than look at you forlornly and say, “We’re just so disappointed”? Same went for my relationship with Grant. “You go ahead with our viewings. I’ll meet you at whichever apartment you’re on when I’m done.”
Grant plucked at a loose thread on my comforter. “Are you sure no one else can handle it? You know how the New York market is. If one of these places is really great, it’s going to get snapped up,” he pointed out.
“I know. I’m sorry, Marian needs me. You know how she is.” I turned to the mirror in an effort to tame my mess of curls. It’s like they could sense how humid it was outside and were trying to tell me not to waste my time, so I threw my hair into a low bun and hoped for the best. As I was patting on some makeup, I saw my phone light up with another call from Marian. “On my way!” I answered before she could get a word in edgewise. I gave Grant a kiss, then rushed into the bathroom. A few minutes later, I was sliding onto the subway just as the doors closed.
As I hurried into Grey & Boehm, Marian and Imogen stood in a face-off with their arms crossed. It was almost comical: tiny Imogen with her wild tangle of spun sugar hair, boyfriend jeans and Birkenstocks (purchased years ago, before they were cool) was holding her own against Marian, who was at least a foot taller in a perfectly-tailored black suit and Louboutins.“Hi, you two!” I chirped sunnily, hoping to defuse the tension.
“Tessa, please help Imogen understand that the energy in this room is perfectly fine,” Marian forced the words through a clenched smile.
I shot her a helpless look that she missed because she was too busy glaring at Imogen, then tried to turn on the charm. After an hour and a half of gentle cajoling, I finally coaxed the truth out of her: this was her first big exhibit in the United States, she had accidentally left her just-in-case Xanax in Australia, and she was overcome with nerves. I grasped her hands reassuringly. “Imogen, this is brilliant. Your art is exactly what our social media-obsessed world needs right now. People will have epiphanies when they see it,” I insisted in my most soothing voice. “It will change their lives.” I prayed she’d never looked me up on Twitter. My feed was full of random puppy photos and musings about what Blue Ivy’s life must be like. Thankfully, she just took a wobbly breath and nodded. “You’re right,” she responded in her soft Australian twang, squeezing my hand gratefully. “I can do this. I’m going to go meditate until it’s time. My therapist just gave me the most remarkable new set of mantras.”
Marian and I exchanged a look as Imogen floated off toward the back office. “Well! That’s all settled,” I smiled brightly at Marian and edged towards the door. It was only 3:30. I could still catch Grant at a few afternoon showings. I would usually be here all day setting up for Imogen’s opening night, but I specifically told Marian I had plans today. Unfortunately for me, Marian was quick to forget details that don’t involve her.
“Tessa, would you run down to the winery? This just doesn’t look like enough for tonight, does it?” She surveyed the boxes City Winery had delivered earlier that day. Of course it doesn’t look like enough to you, Marian, I inwardly rolled my eyes. Marian drinks wine at the rate Kim Kardashian takes selfies, and I’ve definitely caught a whiff of whiskey in her morning cup of coffee. On my way to the store, I pulled out my phone to text Grant and realized it was dead. I could never remember to charge the thing. After I returned with seven extra bottles, Marian sent me on more errands, including placing an order of extra pamphlets with the printer and getting Imogen some fresh bottles of kombucha. I stole a second to call Grant from the office phone, but all I got was his voicemail. “Hi, it’s me! I just have a few quick things to finish up here and then I’ll meet you. My phone’s dying, but I’ll write down the viewing schedule so I know where to find you.”
At 7:00, Marian finally decided she was satisfied. She sent me on my way with an oblivious “Enjoy your day off!” Our last viewing had been on the Upper West Side at 7:15. I’d never make it. I raced back to my place knowing Grant was probably furious, and that he had every right to be.
When I got home, I threw open my apartment door and rushed into my room to charge my phone. When it finally booted up, I had tons of photos from Grant with pictures of potential places. I also had texts from him about the West Village gem we had been eyeing, and they grew increasingly less enthusiastic. They went from “Babe, we thought it was too good to be true, but it’s not! They even allow pets,” complete with a dog emoji to “There are other people interested, can you make it down here ASAP? They’d need both of us to sign.” to “Never mind. Another couple put down a deposit.” My stomach churned. I was dismayed that we lost out on the apartment, but even more so, I was mad at myself for letting Grant down. I called him again and this time he answered.
“Grant, I’m so sorry. Marian sent me on a ton of errands and I really couldn’t get away,” I spilled in a rush. “I’ll spend some extra time on Craigslist to set up more appointments for us. I’m sure we’ll find something even better.” I waited for his response while tugging my hair, my biggest nervous habit
After an intense silence, he finally replied. “It’s okay. The West Village place was too far from the subway anyway. I know you wouldn’t be able to do the walk in those crazy shoes you wear,” he laughed. This was the thing about Grant. I definitely wasn’t perfect, and he knew it, but he always forgave me. “But Tessa, really, I don’t want us to miss out on an amazing place because Marian has no concept of boundaries. Next time, you have to just tell her you took the day off for a reason! Even if she’s acting insane.”
I fought the urge to defend Marian. “I know, she’s just a little intimidating. And my shoes are good crazy! Fashion is all about taking risks,” I reminded him as I sank onto my bed, relieved he was taking this so well. “Are you still meeting me in a few hours to go to Marley’s?” My best friend Marley was throwing a party at her place for her 25th birthday, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months.
“Yeah, of course. I’ll see you later. I love you.”
After a much-needed nap and a rushed getting-ready session, I heard my buzzer let out the three quick bleats that let me know Grant had arrived. I bounced downstairs in my new pair of white jeans and a cobalt blue top I snagged in a J.Crew sale. When I saw him, I immediately wanted to pounce. When we first met, Grant was a fan of sloppy jeans and graphic tees. After he scored his swanky new job, he sheepishly asked me to go shopping with him. I did so with unrestrained glee, and now he has a wardrobe full of fitted dark-wash jeans and button downs that show off his delicious body. He wrapped me in his arms and I inhaled his heady scent, loving how he dwarfed me at his 6’4” height. “I’m really sorry about today,” I mumbled into his chest. He pulled back and searched my eyes. “Tessa, do you really want to do this? If moving in together is too much, you can tell me.” He looked so sincere, I fell a little bit more in love with him in that moment.
“Of course not!” And really, he couldn’t have been further from the truth. I interlaced my fingers behind his neck and grazed his jawbone. “I can’t wait for us to live together. Today was just unfortunate timing.”
Reassured, Grant grabbed my hand, and we set off in search of a cab to Marley’s.