September 23, 2014

Tessa's Story

by Zahra Barnes

“I’ll have an extra dry martini,” Marian said. “Tessa, would you like something besides water?”

I don’t make a habit of drinking at 1:15 p.m. on a Wednesday, so I had to pass. “Water’s great for me, thank you!”

The waitress smiled and nodded before turning away, shooting a curious look at us over her shoulder. I was eager to know the purpose of this outing, myself. Marian had stalked over to my desk that morning and told me, in no uncertain terms, that we were getting lunch at Vert, a new salad place nearby. I could tell Liv’s ears perked up, but Marian solved the mystery of whether she would be coming pretty quickly. “Liv, I trust you’ll handle everything while we’re gone. Shouldn’t take long.”

So here I was, trying not to worry about what Marian had to say. It’s not like it was going to be an impromptu review; after my first year at Grey & Boehm, I’d naively asked her for one. “If I don’t fire you, assume you’re doing passably well,” she’d told me in a steely voice. Okay, then. In the time since, she’d made some nice gestures like the gala invitation and the ring dish she’d gotten me for my apartment, but the woman was the definition of an ice queen. You just never knew with her.

Marian took off her massive sunglasses and set them on the table. The waitress placed the martini in front of her, and I got the sudden urge to lunge for it and slam it back. Just to see what Marian would do. I half-expected she’d respect me more for it. We placed our lunch orders and, at a loss, I started to make smalltalk. “Well, the weather is finally—”

“Tessa, I brought you here today to tell you about some changes that are coming to Grey & Boehm,” Marian cut in. I couldn’t even be offended, because in her world I probably hadn’t uttered a word. “You know that we’ve been making a push to get more high-profile artists and expand our visibility.”

I nodded.

“Well, to that end, we’re being acquired. In a few months, Grey & Boehm will join forces with Revel Productions.”

I tried to maintain a neutral expression, but my mind was racing. Am I about to get fired? Wait, am I Marnie in Girls? I can’t be, because I would never have sex with Booth Jonathan and talk dirty about a sassy doll. Please, God, don’t, let me be Marnie. Wait, Tessa, what the fuck are you thinking? FOCUS! My shrill mental scream brought me down to earth in time to realize Marian had asked me a question, one perfectly-shaped eyebrow arched while she waited for my response.


“I said, ‘Are you happy at Grey & Boehm?’”

“Oh, of course! It really is the perfect fusion of event planning and obscure art forms made accessible—”

“Tessa, this is not an interview with a common Human Resources representative. I didn't ask for a canned answer.” She leveled me with a look that, instead of being intimidating, was encouraging. In her admittedly brusque way, she wanted me to be real with her.

I paused, then gave her the most candid response I could. “I’m obsessed with this job. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.”

She studied me in silence. I felt like she was evaluating everything from my one stupid lock of hair that refused to submit to my blow dryer to each decision I’d ever made at Grey & Boehm. It was like I was on a reality TV show and she was determining whether I was going to be eliminated or get to stay on in the hopes of becoming America’s Next Top Arts Events Planner. I imagined Marian trying to teach me how to smize (don’t think the Botoxed are especially good at that), and grinned. I scrubbed my face quickly, feeling like I was losing it. Surprisingly, Marian’s genuine smile mimicked mine. She nodded with satisfaction and I suppressed my awe at what I was seeing.

“Good. I’ve ensured that your position will remain safe in this process, as will Olivia’s if she is interested in staying on.”

A wave of relief rocked me so hard, I almost felt woozy. Roller coaster emotions always make me ravenous, so I was grateful for the waitress’ impeccable timing when she set our salads down in front of us. We dug in (well, I did while Marian frowned at the avocado on my plate and nibbled the lettuce leaves on hers) and she told me about the deal. The man who had visited the week before, Tom Fitzpatrick, was a silent partner of Revel Productions. His late wife’s passion had been throwing huge parties, so he was backing the up-and-coming event planning firm in her honor. It was swimming in money, thanks to Tom’s heavily-lined pockets. We at Grey & Boehm were going to head up the arts-related branch of the company. We’d even be moving into swanky offices in midtown Manhattan. Basically, this was huge news.

“You know I don’t think there’s any room for sentimentality at the office, but I will say you remind me very much of myself at a young age. I admire your tenacity,” Marian said. “And I want to see you do well.”

I chose to ignore the more suspect parts of the comparison (since I was not intimidatingly emotionally stunted, we were actually different in many ways), and took it as the compliment she intended it to be. Marian saying something that flattering was basically like her proposing to me. She’d taken ownership of Grey & Boehm when she was only 27, and everyone in the art world knew and respected her. If I could capture half of her cutthroat determination, I’d go places.

On a high from the news that not only was my job safe, Marian actually valued me, I told her all about Mary, the out-there artist I’d met at the gala. Marian agreed that her brand of crazy would be the kind of thing that would help us make a splash just before joining with Revel.

I left the lunch feeling buoyed. I’d only been back at my desk for a few minutes when Grant texted me. “Free on Saturday evening? Have a surprise for you.” He knew just how to hook me. I could not get enough of surprises, whether it was planning them for friends or watching videos of them gone wrong on YouTube.

After I spent Saturday morning at Grey & Boehm, Grant met me in front of my apartment. I’d tried cajoling, begging, and faux-threatening to find out what the surprise was. He wasn’t budging. He’d just told me to wear something nice and get ready to dance. Even though I wasn’t sure what we were doing, I knew it was going to be my kind of night. We hopped on the subway and then zigzagged through the city streets on the way to our final destination.

During our walk, he asked how Celine was doing. He’d left before she woke up the morning after the gala, but when he’d texted checking in on her, I told him I’d fill him in later. Everything had actually been weirdly fine.

“I’m so sorry to ruin the evening! I just didn’t eat enough yesterday,” Celine had said over the brunch she’d made me to apologize.

Still worried, I’d kept at it. “You know you can talk to me about anything.” I forked another bite into my mouth. Her “sorry pancakes,” as she called them, were better than mine even though she should have had a hangover from hell.

“I know, but I swear I’m totally fine. YOLO, right?” Celine had decided she didn’t know enough American slang, which she said was the true sign you were totally fluent in another language. She’d taken to listening to hip hop for some guidance, with hilarious results.

I watched her bustle around the kitchen, seeming perfectly okay, and was ultimately convinced that it had been a one-off.

“So she’s all good?”

“Yes, and thanks again for your help…” I trailed off when I saw the yacht covered in fairy lights. “Wow. Faaaancy,” I cocked my head in its direction and kept walking, only to realize he wasn’t still next to me. I turned around and saw him grinning proudly in front of the boat. “Grant. No!”

He nodded happily. “Yes. I know how much these tourist-y things get you.” He held out a hand. “Welcome to your sunset cruise.”

When we’d first started dating, I’d explained that I was unabashedly into seeing the most obvious tourist attractions. Grant had taken me to the top of the Empire State Building, we’d browsed collections at The Met, and we even had a picture with one of those creepy life-sized Elmo puppets in Times Square. I couldn’t help but love the cheesiness in a way that was originally ironic, but had somehow become completely genuine. He’d always known a sunset cruise was on my list.

I threw my arms around him, then dragged him to the line, wriggling with excitement. After Grant presented our tickets, we walked up the plank and explored the two-story boat. I’d pictured a sunset cruise being a gaudy kind of fabulous, but this was actually tastefully done. The dining room was all spotless glass and plush velvet seating, candles peppered throughout. It had sightseeing decks complete with bathrooms on both floors, and at least two bars that I could count. As the place filled up with other sightseers, we headed to one to get a drink.

The captain came over the loudspeaker. “Welcome aboard Sunset Sightsees! We’re pushing off now. Last chance to leave, folks. If you change your mind after this, I hope your doggy paddle’s in good shape!” he chuckled to himself, obviously amused even though he’d probably done this for years.

“What are you getting?” I asked Grant.

“Well, this is so corny, but let’s go with it. Champagne? To celebrate?”

I didn’t ask him to elaborate; I knew he meant it to mark how well our second try was going. Plus, I never could resist bubbles.

Flutes in hand, we turned around to survey the scene.

“Where did these people come from?” Whenever I’d imagined doing one of these, I’d pictured being surrounded by midwesterners in their 60s who were delighted to tour The Big Apple. Not that there’s something wrong with that, because if my parents are anything to judge by, the party doesn’t stop after 50. But these people were pretty much all the glitzy city types I’d see at a Grey & Boehm opening.

“This company markets itself to a sort of young high roller crowd that wants a different party for a night. It is pretty nice, huh?”

“I’d say that’s an understatement.” A shimmering blond head of hair caught my eye, and even though I could only see the back of the woman, I knew she was stunning. “Jesus, I had no idea Blake Lively was here.” Grant had secretly gotten obsessed with Gossip Girl after I watched a few episodes at his place. He was still annoyed at the revelation that Dan was the eponymous schemer who’d wreaked havoc on the Upper East Side. And really, what was that? It makes no sense.

Grant followed my line of sight and his entire body stiffened. I was about to ask him what was wrong, but I understood when the woman turned enough to offer a glimpse of her profile. A roaring filled my ears as I took in the honey waves of hair, snug bordeaux-colored dress, and signature smirk that seemed like a fixture on Sophie’s face. She didn’t spot us, otherwise she’d probably have been turned to stone by the force of our combined gaze. Which, let’s be real, I wouldn’t have hated.

Did Grant know she would be here? Is this some sort of second attempt at sabotaging us? I took one look at him and knew he was just as surprised as I was. His face had gone white and his jaw ticked uncontrollably. My brain, unwilling to process what was going on, just focused on weird, tiny details. Like how prickly his recently-shorn scalp looked now that it was drained of blood.

We stood there in stunned silence until he faced me. “I swear, I didn’t know she would be here. We can leave.”

Desperate to fend off my rising alarm, a manic grin that is the stuff movie killers are made of crept across my face. I felt like if I just kept smiling, everything would be okay. “Grant! We’re on a boat! We can’t leave unless you’re somehow Michael Phelps in disguise and can make it to shore with me on your back!”

He grabbed my hand. “What do you want me to do? I just want to avoid her, but I’ll do whatever you want.”

I took a huge breath, trying to get as much oxygen to my brain as possible. It was feeling starved. “At least it’s not a rowboat, right? Let’s just try to stay away. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.” I reminded myself that I technically had nothing to hold against Sophie, and that by starting things with Grant again, I’d made my peace with what he did.

He squeezed my hand in agreement and started to lead me to the upper deck.

“Wait.” I held up a finger and turned to the bartender. “I need a very strong drink, please. Don’t care what it tastes like. Just strong.” I couldn’t stop picturing Grant’s hands tangled in Sophie’s hair. Why did it look that good? What kind of sorcery was she using in place of conditioner? If only bartenders had brain bleach on tap, I wished. Celine had taught me an important lesson in not going overboard, but I needed something to numb the shock. I’m not superhuman, after all.

“You know what? I’ll have what she’s having.” While the bartender mixed our drinks, Grant leaned his forehead against mine and stared deep into my eyes. With that one look, I knew we were in this together. Or as together as we could be. It was touchy for both of us for incredibly different reasons.

We headed up to the top deck with our drinks. It was chilly since we were on the water, so most people had gone down to the main room. A shock of cold air slapped me, but I sucked it in, welcoming it. It cleared my head.

“I just have to ask,” I started, annoyed at myself but knowing I couldn’t just pretend I wasn’t shaken. “You’re sure this is what you want? Us, I mean. I know you haven’t seen her in a while and that sometimes feelings can just come flooding back,” I said in a rush. Like they did when I saw you, I added mentally.

He paused long enough to make me consider hurling myself over the edge and taking my chances fighting the waves back to the dock.

“I knew I wouldn’t need to think about it, but I know you. If I hadn’t stopped to think, you’d say I hadn’t given myself a chance to really consider what you were saying.” He was right. “I know I want you. Period. Not Sophie, not any other woman. You.”

My entire body slackened like I’d shoved a handful of muscle relaxers down my throat. “Okay, good. Well, let’s try to make the best out of it, right? At least the sunset’s gorgeous, and that’s what we came here for.”

“It is,” he agreed. He wrapped his arms around me from behind and we leaned against the railing, our own little bastardized version of Jack and Rose. If Jack had cheated and Rose were actually half-hoping for an iceberg to take the ship down so she could escape in a rescue boat, that is.

“Gotta head to the bathroom.” Grant broke the silence. “I’ll be right back. We’re going to have a good night, okay?” He kissed my head and disappeared around the corner to the upper deck’s restroom. Would I have been suspicious if he went to the one downstairs, closer to Sophie? I was glad he didn’t, because I didn’t want to know.

I swirled my ice around in my glass, sipping slowly. The clinking noise calmed me, and the drink was caramelly and rough, leaving my throat a little raw after each fresh swallow. I was grateful for the feeling. It anchored me, giving me something solid to hold onto.

“Tessa?” I spun around, already knowing, but still shocked when I found myself face-to-face with Sophie. My heart skittered jerkily in my chest. Everything looked confident about her except the question in her eyes, which she offered up to the world in her next breath. “Can I talk to you?”


  1. She better not be pregnant!!!

    1. Unless grant lied, they didn't have sex, soooooo that's not possible.

    2. Ah no way! Or else she would have told Grant first

  2. Throw your drink on her!

  3. That is so so awkward, stuck on a boat with Sophie!! I wonder what she'll want!

  4. I like this story, but for those of us in the middle of a Gossip Girl marathon on Netflix, you totally just ruined the rest of the series. Please at least let us know in advance if there are spoilers for an extremely popular show - not all of us watch it when it is on TV.

    1. Didn't that go off the air 2 years ago?

    2. Lol exactly it's been over for so long and Im pretty sure everyone talked about it when it happened so get over yourself and don't expect a disclaimer before every post. I swear people comment just to complain

      Anyways good post!! Excited to see where things go with Grant

    3. If the series had ended last season, I could see being annoyed. But retroactively trying to watch it years after it ended, you have to expect that people are no longer guarding the ending like some treasured secret. Lol

    4. It just ruined it for me too, and it wasn't even important in context to the post.

    5. Disclaimer: Something I write is going to make someone complain about something. Read at your own risk.

    6. Impressed that you somehow made it 2 years without inadvertently reading a spoiler! I sympathize with you, but comeon, don't blame Zahra..

  5. I agree, say no and move on. She doesn't owe her a conversation to rest a guilty conscience (if she has one) and if that isn't what she wants to talk about, Tessa likely will regret listening to her anyway. Hopefully Grant comes back from the men's room just in time!!! Ugh. Can't wait until next week.

  6. Ohh man this is getting good!! Does Sophie even know that Tessa found out about them? Can't wait for next week!

  7. Ahh I wish there was going to be another post before next week what a cliffhanger!! I hope she doesn't say anything to throw off Grant and Tessa's reconciliation!

    1. Totally agree!! Can't wait and keep Tessa and Grant together. Some drama is good for keeping the pace of the story, though.

  8. I hope she turns out to be a decent human being and can help Tessa continue to move on from this

    1. She texted grant over and over trying to get them to hook up again even though he was with Tessa so I'm going to say that she's not a decent human being.

    2. Oh yeah.... Forgot about that! Definitely not a decent human being who should potentially be thrown overboard. Thanks for the reminder I'm now suitably indignant and less hopeful that this won't turn out badly haha

  9. Ohhhhh boy my heart totally sank. By her texts to Grant, Sophie didn't seem like a great person, but who knows. Great cliffhanger!

  10. Oh jeez. And we have to wait another week...mum

  11. She will talk to sophie, and i guarantee it will be a game changer

  12. She better not mess this second chance up for them!!!! I'll be so upset!

  13. Nonono!!! Please don't start ending on cliffhangers, you're way too good of a writer for that!!!!

    No but seriously you seem awesome and I kind of have a crush on you

  14. (I should clarify that I mean that in a non-creepy friend way...:) really enjoying your way with words! Write a book!

    1. Haha, so nice of you to say, thank you! I having raging friend crushes on people, so I get it.

    2. I'm glad! I also want to be best friends with almost all of your characters...which is one of the reasons why the blog is so good. Tessa's the protagonist, but Celine, Marley, and others are well-developed and intriguing... Even Liv and Marian seem cool! I also have I thank you for featuring such strong female characters who support one another. It's refreshing and makes me want to live in the world you've created!

  15. Eek! I wish we got Tessa updates more than once a week!

  16. Pardon my French, but shit is about to get real!!!

  17. Yuck. The woman must be incredibly self-absorbed to imagine there's *anything* constructive to be gained by her & Tessa having a conversation. So, she's either trying to make herself feel better - less guilty - (causing Tessa more angst in the process), or she just wants to stir up trouble out of spite and jealousy. Either way, Tessa's best move is to just walk away without any interaction...but this is a fictional blog, so that's not going to happen. Here comes the drama.

  18. How did she recognize Sophie? Had she seen her before? I dont recall her mentioning if she had known her from Grant's work or if she was a stranger to her?

  19. I think she once saw Sophie at some work thing of Grant's, and S gave her some side eye

  20. But what if Sophie's pregnant though?

  21. I think she's pregnant. Pregnancy does great things for your hair.. Tessa kept talking about how great her hair looked. I think that's the connection. Grant probably lied about not sleeping with her figuring there was no way she would ever run into Sohpie to figure it out.

    1. That makes a lot of sense; I also thought while reading that it was kind of weird to make a point about Sophie's hair. There's going to have to be *some* kind of dramatic residue from this part of the story to keep the emotional rollercoaster going. We'll see; good call.

    2. *Thought*: maybe Sophie got pregnant by someone else, but will want Grant (and Tessa) to *think* he's the father. All her doggedly persistent texts to him after he told her it was a 1-time deal makes it seem like she could be obsessed with him. So, even if Grant did tell Tessa the truth about no actual intercourse going on between them, he could still wind up in a tough spot if Sophie decides to lie.

    3. I completely agree with you here.. even if he didn't it will still put the question in Tessa's head and she may not know what or who to believe. Some girls are crazy and Sophie seems like she could be one of them. Can't wait to find out what happens!

  22. Ugh, I usually read a few days late in case there's a cliff hanger and the week I don't, I'm left with THIS! Haha, but great writing, Zahra. I've seen in many blogs that the comments are only filled with complaints while a lot of people who really enjoy it don't comment. Please remember all the people who love this blog (like me!)

    1. And as far as the pregnancy comments, I definitely don't think Grant lied beyond the initial lie. He knew the only way to maybe, MAYBE salvage things was to be completely up front once he was caught. I bet Sophie is going to *try* and come off like she wants to make amends or something, but we all know from the texts that she's a horrid person.

    I laughed so hard. Please start posting twice a week.

  24. I really hope this doesn't throw off things for grant & Tessa!! It's obvious he only wants to be with Tessa & I hope they stay together

  25. Thanks for the great post!!

  26. Say no and move on! There's nothing to be gained from the conversation.

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