By Zahra Barnes
The room was silent for a beat after Amy slammed the door behind her. While I was busy trying to figure out how to delicately pick my way across this minefield of a conversation, Celine brazenly said what we were all thinking.
“What’s her problem?” She took a confident sip of her drink, having no idea what a tangled story lay behind Finn and Amy’s relationship.
Finn laughed and raked a hand through his hair, obviously embarrassed by the spectacle.
“She’s just freaking out a little.”
Obviously. I wasn’t shocked. Amy was excellent when you needed someone on your side, but she was also incredibly uptight. She once broke out in hives because an extra person showed up to a very fancy, invite-only dinner party she was throwing at her apartment. I tried to calm her down in her bedroom as she carved a pencil across a spare place card, gripping it so tightly her knuckles turned bone-white. “This throws everything off,” she said through clenched teeth.
So, yeah, I wasn’t surprised.
“What, she’s losing it about you leaving finance?” He was usually pretty open with me, so I was surprised he hadn’t talked to me about their apparently huge problems.
“I mean, it’s mainly that. I don’t know if this is what I want to do, and it’s screwing with her perfectly-planned future.”
“So you have no idea what you’d do instead?”
“Not really. I just don’t see the point of spending my life in an office with a bunch of people who have sticks up their asses and wish their lives were like Wolf of Wall Street.”
“Well, you’re not chasing after her so that says something.”
“Amy really needs time to cool off after things like that.” He shrugged. He’d clearly been on the receiving end of an Amy explosion before.
“Yeah, but it’s so not okay that she talks to you like that!" I’d half-expected Finn to trail after her with his tail between his legs.
“I know. We’re working on it. Can we just drop it?”
I opened my mouth to say yes, of course, but he could talk to me about it whenever. He continued before I could get a word in edgewise.
“Actually, I think I’m just going to go for a walk. Get some fresh air.” He definitely didn’t want to be the center of attention like this, but I had a hunch he was itching to talk about it.
“Let me come with you,” I volunteered.
I knew it was easy to let the city steal hours from you while you wandered around, dazed, thinking about your problems. Sometimes, all you needed was someone who would stay in step beside you. “Will you guys be fine here?” I didn’t want to desert Marley and Celine, but Finn obviously needed someone to talk to.
“Of course, we’ll just get to know each other!” Celine gave me an encouraging smile, which Marley mimicked.
We headed out into the balmy night. Tons of people were swarming the streets, tripping over each other tipsily, laughing. We headed down 2nd Avenue and I waited, knowing that silence can crack a person better than even the most insightful question. After four blocks of walking with his hands shoved in his pockets, he started talking.
“I understand where Amy’s coming from. This isn’t what she signed up for, you know? She thought she’d be set with a guy who could give her everything she's ever wanted. And I thought that was what I was ready to do.”
“But now I don’t know. I guess I’ve been thinking about my mom lately. The anniversary’s coming up.”
Now it was making more sense. Finn’s mom had died the September after his sixth birthday, when he was too young to really have concrete memories of her. What she had left him, while breast cancer lay waste to her body, was letters. Tons of them, trying to take care of her son the only way she could think of as her time dwindled.
He shook his head as if to clear the memories. “My dad and Connor expect this life from me, but I know this isn’t what Mom would want. Maybe it’s just because she isn’t here, but I feel like I should listen to that if I’m not happy.” We turned around and headed back in the direction of my apartment.
“It isn’t just because she’s not here. I mean, that’s obviously an important part of it,” I added hastily. “But even if she were, you’d still deserve to do what you want. I really do believe that.” Finn and I had talked many times about how it seems like people just become complacent after a few years in "the real world," unwittingly distinguishing the fire under their asses that used to give them life. Whether it’s because they’re scared of instability or because they think people are supposed to spend most hours of their lives at jobs they hate, always dreading Mondays, I couldn’t get on board. I felt so lucky to have escaped that reality at my job, and I wanted everyone I cared about to feel the same.
“I know you’re right. But it would be a huge change. For starters, I definitely wouldn’t be able to afford my apartment. Wouldn’t be able to afford Amy, either.” He laughed and dodged a dudebro who was hoarsely yelling into the night air about Bocce ball.
“If Amy thinks you can’t afford her, then let her leave. That’s not what relationships should be about! If it were, don’t you think I’d have snagged a pro basketball player so I could be spending time on the beach in the south of France rather than hanging around this insane city?” I nudged him.
“You go get that basketball player, Tessa. I believe in you.” He nudged me back playfully and knocked me off balance.
“Finn, seriously! Her attitude about your relationship is so weird. She’s got a great job at J.Crew, she’s got that whole Lean In thing going on. Why does she need you to be rolling in it?”
“It’s just what she knows. It’s how her family works. Don made sure Muffy was very comfortable from the moment they met.” Amy’s parents Don and Muffy were legendary in our friend circle because they were they were the ultimate caricatures of WASPiness.
“Yeah, but isn’t our life’s purpose supposed to be rebelling against our parents?” I was only half-joking. “I just think her attitude is a little medieval.”
“You could say that. I’m not sure what’s holding us together. Even the physical part is kind of off.”
“What?!” I’m sure people all the way in Jersey cocked their heads, trying to figure out where the shriek came from. Finn was respectfully tight-lipped about their sex life, but I had a few ideas. I’d once groped around under Amy’s bed to find my phone after I’d dropped it, only to disbelievingly pull out a pair of handcuffs. Not the fuzzy pink kind, either. These were the industrial-grade, inescapable type that looked like they would make it through a nuclear holocaust. Since then, I’d pictured her unleashing all those pent-up nerves in a torrent of kinkiness. Her geyser-like eruption of attitude at my apartment made a lot more sense now. Holding back all those sexual urges couldn’t be easy.
“Yeah. We’ve just been in such a weird space that it’s basically off the table. But at the same time, I still love her. You get it.” He gave me a knowing look. I'd filled him in about the Grant fiasco, so he understood that I was well acquainted with that special feeling of being utterly confused about my love life.
"I do. Well, I hope it all gets figured out. You know I'm here if you need me."
We were back in front of my stoop.
“I know. Thanks for this, Tess. It helped to just talk it out a little.”
“Of course. Let me know what happens when you see her.”
He wrapped me into a hug then set off for the subway. When I got upstairs the apartment was dark. I checked my phone, and Marley had texted me that she loved Celine and wanted to hear all about what happened with Finn. There was no reply waiting from Grant, so I washed off my makeup, brushed my teeth, and passed out.
The next morning, I awoke to the vibration of my phone. I normally hated that I was such a light sleeper, but when I saw it was an email from Grant, my annoyance faded away.
You have no idea how good it is to hear that. I hope the fact that you miss me means what I’m about to say isn’t too unwelcome.
Mike and Caitlin’s engagement party is next Saturday. I know we’d RSVPed yes, but obviously I understand if you don’t want me to go or if you’d rather sit it out. Let me know what you’re thinking?
Holy hell, he was right. The engaged twosome had been our closest couple friends. Mike and Grant had been in the same fraternity pledge class. I didn’t love Mike (he was a little too frat star-y for my tastes), but Caitlin was sweet. So sweet that I don’t think we would have been compatible if it weren’t for our boyfriends. Still, I really liked her. They were having a joint engagement party and brunch at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. Caitlin was the soft-spoken type who wouldn’t say anything, but would definitely be upset if either Grant or I didn’t show. She was so insular that she had a small group of close friends, but certainly not enough to populate the kind of engagement party I knew she wanted. I’m not egoistical in saying our presence would be missed. But was I really ready to see Grant?
I decided to let it marinate while I explored my new neighborhood. After a quick shower, I was outside on a gorgeous Sunday. I grabbed an everything bagel at the shop where I could already foresee becoming a regular, and picked a random direction to walk in. I hadn’t spent too much time in this part of the Upper East Side, so everything was new to me. I wanted to get my mind off the Grant situation so that later, when I came back to it with a fresh perspective, I could just go with my gut.
A few blocks from home, I saw an intriguing sign scrawled on a chalkboard. “Carpe Drink ‘Em! Mixology classes start next week!” It was posted in front of one of those places filled with what were probably once really nice wood furnishings and lots of red velvet-covered stools. The 40-something, bearded, unsmiling bartender raised an eyebrow and looked me up and down.
“I’m here about the mixology class.” I made myself put a firm period to that sentence rather than ending it in a question mark, which I was tempted to do in his intimidating presence.
“What, you wanna learn how to make a Cosmopolitan?” The tattooed barkeep snorted at me. I couldn’t tell if it was good-natured sarcasm.
“No, but the Woodford Reserve I had last night piqued my interest.”
He appraised me for a second, then nodded approvingly. “Classes start on Wednesday night. 8-9 p.m., upstairs in our lounge area. I can set you up with a package deal.”
After he walked me through the details, I realized it was legit. I was in.
“So, I’ll see you Wednesday. I’m Johnny, by the way.”
“Tessa. See you then. And I hope there aren’t any Cosmos on the roster. I hate cranberry juice.” I smiled to myself as his laughter followed me out into the sunshine.
I spent the next few hours feeling buoyed by my decision. I was doing exactly what Liv had recommended: filling up my time with things besides Grant so I could determine how I felt about giving him another chance. As far as I could tell, it was working. My head always felt so much clearer after I gave my brain a break from everything boy-related.
When I finally returned home after walking over three miles, I was beat. Celine was out, so I just ordered a pizza and sprawled out on the couch. I still wasn’t sure what to do about Grant’s message. I can’t think when I’m on the verge of hangriness, I reassured myself. I’ll decide post-pizza.
After a few slices, my mind was made up. I grabbed my phone and composed the email.
Wow, I can’t believe it’s already time for their party. Thanks for giving me a heads-up.
Honestly, I really think we should both go. I mean, we’re adults. We can handle spending a night in the same place. It’s supposed to be about their happiness and I don’t want whatever is going on between us to get in the way of that.
I’ll see you on Saturday.
I read over my note and was reassured I was doing the right thing. After sending up a silent prayer that I wouldn't come to regret my decision, I hit "Send."