September 9, 2014

Tessa's Story

by Zahra Barnes

Livs forehead knotted itself into a maze of wrinkles as she muddled her blackberries. 

I dont think Im making enough juice, she whispered.

Id brought her along to my second mixology class as a thank you for her taking me to that drink and draw event. We were making pretty elaborate blackberry gimlets, but patience wasnt Livs strong suit.

She stopped twisting and eyed her smushed berries, unenthused. Can we just get to the drinking part? She took a sip of straight gin. Its fine without the berries, I swear.

Plus, I only came so you could fill me in about the Grant situation. I prefer my drinks to be handed to me, ready for consumption. She set her muddler down and perched on a stool. Her eyes shone at the promise of gossip even juicier than the mashed berries in front of us. Stalling until Johnny, the grumpy bartender, was out of earshot, I strained my drink and offered Liv a taste. She swatted the glass away. Okay, more for me.

Spill. It.

When I walked into work on Tuesday, I could tell Liv had a hard time holding back her questions. Shed spent Labor Day weekend in Nantucket with her family and texted me on Monday, about to OD on family time. Save me. What happened with Grant?! So when we finally saw each other face-to-face, she was ready to burst. Marian was back, though, so I couldnt just tell all. Id promised Id fill her in after the mixology class.

We hooked up.

I KNEW it! She crowed, and everyone turned to look. She quieted herself, then repeated herself in a hiss. I knew it! How was it?

Honestly? I grinned at the ceiling, trying to find the right word. Amazing.

Noooo wayyyyy.

Yes. It wasnt my finest moment because it happened in a freaking bathroom, which is gross, but I couldnt hold back. It was insane. Like he was a double cheeseburger and I hadnt eaten in years.

A bathroom?! She whisper-screamed and I grabbed her thigh, laughing. I was flooded with a giddiness that harkened back to middle school, shared secrets, and jagged half-heart necklaces that pledged best friendship forever.

Yes. I know. Whatever, isnt that the kind of thing people need to do to have fully lived their 20s? Validate me, here.

She sobered and held up two fingers to her chest in a mangled imitation of a Girl Scout, her chin quivering as she fought off a laugh. I solemnly swear you are legally not allowed to turn 30 until youve fucked someones brains out in a bathroom. She cackled and took a swig of my drink, her red hair tumbling over her shoulders.

Well, what are you going to do? Shed drained my glass, so I reached over and finished making hers so I could have another taste.

He called me the next day and asked if we could have dinner. Were meeting up tomorrow.

Okay, you didnt really answer my question. Are you getting back together?

I have no idea. I mean, who even knows if he wants to start it all up again? And this weird thing happened at one point.

I explained what had gone down with the condom. Liv stabbed an errant blackberry with a toothpick and frowned.

So you don't think he was telling the truth?

Im going to ask him tomorrow. Its just a little convenient, you know?

She nodded. Good plan. Either way, at least you got good sex out of it.

This was true. But over the past few days, Id struggled with what had happened. I swung from rapturous delight to panic that I wasnt just betraying myself, but all of womankind by considering dating Grant again. This was made no better by consulting my friends. Celine was, of course, very laissez-faire: You will know the right decision to make, she told me when I got back and explained what had happened.

Marley wasnt so sure. Obviously Ill support you in whatever you do, but I personally dont think going back to him is the smartest choice.

And Id finally fessed up to my mom, although Id begged her not to tell my dad what was going on lest he fly up to New York and make Grant regret the day he was born. Shed echoed Marleys sentiments.

Youre my baby girl, and I just dont want to see you get hurt. Her slight Southern accent, courtesy of a military brat childhood partially spent in Georgia, made me ache with missing her.

Liv snapped me back to the moment. I mean, you guys were pretty serious, right? Going to go for the whole marriage, babies, etcetera?

I hadnt gone as far as kids, but I did kind of think wed get married. I just didnt really want to jinx it by bringing it up too soon. Truth be told, toward the end of our relationship Id caught myself checking out passing babies in strollers the way construction workers watch womens asses when they walk by. Id approach the stroller, staring ahead like a normally-functioning human being. As soon as it passed, my head would instinctively swivel so I could get a glimpse of the tiny face peeking out of its burrito-like swaddling. Dont get me wrong, it wholly freaked me out. At the same time, it was a hint that my body, if not my mind, was getting ready to settle down.

Thats a big deal. Everyone makes mistakes, you know? Really, if you thought he was it, like it, then a momentary lapse of judgment may be worth getting over. If you can.

- - -

Around 7:00 p.m. the next day, I was wrapping up at Grey & Boehm. Grant and I were meeting at a tapas place on the Upper East Side. Instead of going to one of our mainstays around the city, when he called me the day after our bathroom, ahem, encounter, hed suggested somewhere wed never been.

Something new would be nice, hed said. The unspoken understanding was that a new place could also mean a new us, if I agreed to get on board.

I was typing up my last email of the day when Marian came over and hovered by my desk. Ever since shed gotten back from Ibiza, she wouldnt take off these massive Dior sunglasses that engulfed half her face. I suspected she was either trying to hide the blistering results of falling asleep on the beach with said glasses on or conceal a botched eyelid surgery. It was a toss-up.

Do you know what has struck me since my return to Grey & Boehm, Tessa?

This was not going to be good.

That back office just overflowing. Dammit. I thought she never went in there. Marian was very much into orderliness, and our back office was where we kept basically any paper related to Grey & Boehm: press materials for past shows (Marian would suddenly be hit with an idea and want to see what wed done like it before), financial files for our remote accounts team member, and tons of other stuff that, each time I tried to organize it, made me feel like I was drowning.

Imagine Grey & Boehm is my mind, and there is an entire corner overrun with trash. Does that sound good to you? In order for me to have a clear mind, every part of this space must be clear as well. I want my mind to be a blank space, ready for inspiration to strike.

Clean the back room. Im on it!

Good. I expect it to be done by the time I get in tomorrow morning. I have an important meeting in the afternoon, so I need everything in place.

My stomach sank. I had to leave to meet Grant, and no way could I be late because I was filing papers. But wait, what meeting? I asked her as much and got an evasive Its just business reply. She was still facing me, but I got the uneasy feeling she was avoiding my gaze.

Oh, I forgot. She went to her office without another word, giving me the chance to type a few more sentences in my email. When she returned, she dropped a thick card made of stock paper on my desk. They say the invitation is non-transferable, but thats ridiculous. RSVP and tell them you work for me and youll be attending in my place, if you want.

It was an invitation to an upcoming art gala and, from the looks of it, was going to be pretty snazzy.

Wow, thank you! Id love to go.

She shrugged, then pointed a dark, lacquered nail at me. Remember, that back office. With that, she was off.

I can handle the back room, if you want, Liv piped up. I know you need to meet Grant and I dont have plans tonight.

Are you sure? Im going to come in early tomorrow to handle it, so you totally dont need to.

No, dont worry about it. Itll be a chance for me to see how Grey & Boehms changed over the years, anyway.

You are seriously the best. I owe you. Let me walk you through it. I quickly showed her the haphazard filing system we had in place, and pointed at various piles of papers we could trash. I still planned on coming in early, but now at least I knew some of it would be taken care of.

I got to the restaurant at 8:00, right on time. The hostess led me toward the back, where Grant was waiting. The bar was dark and buzzing with energy, all of us aware this was the type of place, and the type of night, wed imagined would be staples of our glamorous, grown-up lives. It made it easy to forget the many nights Id had $9 wine and gelato for dinner. The place was littered with candles that threw sharp, dancing shadows against the walls.

Grant looked at me and his eyes lit up. He stood and held out a massive bouquet of blush-pink peonies, my favorite. Wed spent so many Saturdays strolling through the city, me stopping him at each flower stand to point out which were the prettiest of the day. Peonies always reigned supreme. It was about the only thing I had in common with a Pinterest-obsessed bride.

Theyre beautiful. I buried my face in them, inhaling their heady smell.

I could read his thoughts like they were broadcast on his forehead. I should say so are you, right? No, shell laugh me out of this place.

He was right.

You look great, he said. The waitress set our waters down and he started fidgeting with his glass immediately.

Thanks. So do you. His grey cardigan outlined his muscles quite nicely.

Howd work go? We fell into an easy conversation, and it felt like it always had. We talked about our respective days as if we didnt have a much larger, more pressing issue to discuss. I limited myself to just one gin and tonic and stuck to water besides that. I knew Id need my wits about me for this.

So, Ive been seeing someone, he started as soon as we put in our orders. Before I could fully stroke out, he saw my expression and hastily added. A therapist. Ive been seeing a therapist. Well, I had my first session last week.

I was speechless but quickly recovered. Thats really great to hear. What made you decide to do that? It was pretty obvious, but I wanted to be sure.

After everything happened with us I realized I must have screwed it up for a reason, and then to let you find out that way instead of just telling you…” He trailed off, trying to organize his thoughts. I dont want to fuck it up again. And if you give me a chance, I wont.

Are you actually sure you still want this? I mean, its your chance to be single when you probably thought you wouldnt get that again. Even though Id been blissed-out with Grant, my friends stories about dating had sometimes made me wonder what it would be like to be on my own.I never seriously considered dumping him just to experience it. It was more like I wondered how Parallel Universe Tessas single life was going. It didnt help that Marley had recently gone on a Tinder date with a pro soccer player who she swore must have had a battery-operated tongue. She was dying for me to start swiping.

Im positive. Being without you, especially in the apartment, which is the place I thought would make us even closer, has only made me realize what a mistake it was.
Hed stopped fidgeting, and his voice was steady. He was the picture of decisiveness. His clenched jaw only added an extra I am so sure about this sign of resolve. And it was just really hot.

What exactly was the mistake, do you think? I was over judging him and what hed done at this point. I just wanted to see if we were remotely on the same page about what had happened.

Well, my first mistake was not being honest about how much it was all affecting me. I guess it was obvious to me because Im in my head, but I dont think you realized it. I like to think youd have worked on it if you did.

Okay, Im glad you know that. I viewed every time you were annoyed with work or Marian as its own separate incident instead of realizing it was all snowballing into something that made you feel so isolated from me. And I wish Id known, because of course I would have done my best to change that. No matter whats happened between us, I hate to think of you upset or feeling like you werent a priority. Like you were alone in this. I was parched after that mini-speech and gulped down some water.

He nodded then kept speaking, clearly on a roll. And then my second mistake was obviously what I did with Sophie. But I think the worst part was not telling you. I honestly dont know what was going through my head, besides wanting to protect you in the moment. But thats what Im talking to someone to figure out.

Is it working?

Well Ive only had one session and it was more of a getting-to-know-you thing. Nothing too intense yet.

I was so impressed that he was willing to do something serious like therapy, and that hed done it before wed even seen each other at the engagement party. It wasnt just for show.

So, whats the deal with Sophie? I did my best to keep my face neutral, even though saying her name still pained me.

I have zero contact with her. Nothing. I mean, she was already in a different department but I havent even seen her on the floor since you and I, you know, took our break.

But what if you do? I shoved away nauseating visions of them having cheesy conference room sex.

Ive told her so many times that it was a mistake, will never happen again, that I love you, the whole nine. She stopped texting me, and if she does, Ill tell her again. And what I said before still stands. Ill quit if its what it takes to make you trust me again. This is New York, I can find another job. I cant really find another you.

I was touched, but I still knew I wouldnt just be able to snap back into trusting him. My heart couldnt rebound like a star basketball player, no matter how badly I wanted it to.

And remind me what you said about the condom?

He furrowed his brow, confused. Condom?

The one you whipped out at Cait and Mikes? I wanted to know for sure that he wasnt carrying it around because he was hoping to get lucky with someone else while still telling me he missed me. Of course it would have been his right, we were broken up, but it would have been pretty bold.

Well, I knew Id see you. It was presumptuous, and Im sorry if it was tacky. I just hoped basically exactly what happened would happen. Plus, I know how much you like rooftops. He raised an eyebrow suggestively. For some reason, rooftops turn me on. I think its because Im slightly scared of heights, but its always such a gorgeous view that just seeing it makes me feel powerful? I long ago learned to stop questioning and just accept it for what it is.

So, do you have any more questions?

He didnt ask in a condescending or fed up way, and I appreciated it. In one of the many articles Id found while googling should I take him back after cheating seriously what do I do, the best piece of advice Id found was that the cheater should be willing to answer any questions the cheated-on party has. In return, the cheated-on has to accept those answers and get over it if theyre going to make it work.

Yes. Where the hell did you get that cardigan?

We spent the rest of the night catching up on everything that had happened since the last time wed really talked. Hours flew by, and I didnt touch a drop of booze after my first drink. I didnt need it. I was intoxicated, drunk on him, and I felt like I couldnt get enough.

The waitress edged her way over and we finally looked up. Our food was barely touched, and we were woozy like we were resurfacing from the bottom of the ocean after a deep dive. I looked around and realized we were the last people there.

This has been fun, but I should get home. I was reluctant to leave, but I needed to get in early and make sure the office was in perfect shape for Marians mysterious meeting.

After we split the tab (he tried to insist on taking care of it, but I refused), he grabbed our to-go boxes and my flowers. We walked the few short blocks to my place and paused on a spare bit of sidewalk.

It was so amazing to see you. He towered over me, and swear to God, my knees felt weak.

Likewise. It really was.

So, at the risk of sounding lame: what does this mean?

I knew this might blow up in my face. I was well-aware that in a few months, I might find out Grant cheated again and wish Id walked away at this very moment. But he was trying, and I loved him. It really felt that simple. At the same time, I wasnt going to jump right back in like nothing had ever happened.

Lets just see where this goes. Sort of like were starting over?

With the potential of being together again? A look of hope dawned across his face, and my insides melted like the worlds most perfect campfire-toasted smore.

I can see us heading there, yes. But we should take it slowly.

He nodded, studying me tentatively. Is it okay if I kiss you goodnight?

I tilted my head and filed a mental note to email Benefit a thank you for their Theyre Real! mascara, which was allowing me to flutter my eyelashes like it was my job. I cant say Im against kissing on the first date.

He rested the food and flowers on a ledge next to us and brought me in close. Normally Id be watching my leftovers like a hawk (I barely touched those steak kebabs!), but I was swept up in the moment. He pushed my hair behind my ear like a goddamn Disney prince and kissed me like he meant it.

Grant finally pulled away. I was glad he was holding me up, otherwise I might have dissolved onto the filthy sidewalk into a puddle of Tessa that busy New Yorkers would step over, unruffled, on the way to their final destinations.

I am going to woo the hell out of you, Tessa.

I fully believed him, and I couldnt wait.


  1. Well I REALLY hope she's right in believing him. I liked this sentence, it made me laugh out loud at work "Truth be told, toward the end of our relationship I’d caught myself checking out passing babies in strollers the way construction workers watch women’s asses when they walk by", haha!
    Anyways, I have misgivings about second-time arounds, but I am open to seeing this work out, just not completely for or against him. I think things are going to get complicated once he starts courting her again (like she'll meet other men, and it'll be a mess of a decision to make, etc).

  2. Something bad is going to come of Liv reorganizing the back room....

    1. Or not organize....let's see if she can back stab and get Tessa fired....

  3. Yessss omg so happy about this, I so badly want them to work it out. I would love for this to be a blog about a young adult couple and the "normal" ups and down that comes with a relationship. The "bedroom blog" as it were, and then josies blog were all about the dating scene and then ending with them finding their long term partners. I just think it would be a refreshing change to read a blog about something different and I really, really hope Grant and Tessa make it work and this blog follows them on their journey. I know so many of us have been a situation like this, and it would just be great to read a blog that mirrors a real life scenario so many of us have had to deal with.

    1. You may already read it, but a great blog is California Soul Blog. It has been going on for quite a while now and has followed a relationship. It's really good!

    2. Thanks for the suggestion! I'll check it out

  4. really good blog, i'm getting into the story! also, you're hilarious and have a fresh way with words. i love that this post contained so much information -- the fact that each post is so good and long keeps me interested even though this is once a week. thanks for a good read :)

  5. I love that he plans to woo her! I also think that Liv reorganizing the back room is going to be a problem - either she's going to discover something or she's not who she seems and something's going down. mum

    1. Totally agree!! I keep waiting for something awful to happen with Liv....something just seems off to me. As soon as she volunteered to do the back room I had a feeling it wouldn't end well. Wondering if she's going to not do it on purpose to try and get Tessa in trouble. Also agree about the wooing! Too cute!

  6. Grant's last line melted me like a puddle. This story is on the right track! I am so excited. I can actually cheer them on because they are both flawed people trying to grow in to better people together. Well done!

  7. LOVED IT­čśŹ!!!!!! Please please please keep this going ­čśâ

  8. YAYYY!!! I hope it works out between them.

  9. My guess on Liv reorganizing the back room is that she is going to discover a deep dark secret about their boss, something that was hidden away in there....

    OR, that Marion will come in and discover Liv doing the work, and promote her over Tessa, causing some jealousy.

    OR, that her secret meeting is that she is going to be selling the gallery, possibly due to a health issue (going away for surgery/the dark glasses).

    I know, I know...too many theories and they can't all be right! :)

  10. love your writing style! please write a rom-commy book someday!

  11. Great post! Was so scared that the meeting with Grant will be the next post instead when Marian appeared.

    Kinda different plot - Really like this new take of trying out again/giving another go. Can't wait to see how it will work out!!

    1. ditto. i love the fact that they're working it out but it will still give tessa time to find herself in other ways. too many blogs end with cheating and then moving to a new city and starting a new life. i think it's actually much more realistic to not be able to let go of the relationship and give it a second shot. hope it works out for those two!

  12. I appreciate that you give so much info in posts! like someone else said, seemed like we'd have to wait to hear about grant. I think it's so important for blogs that only get written once a week to have something that builds off of and answers the last post a bit or it's just so difficult to enjoy! I disagree with the above poster that mentioned sticking with a cheater is more realistic. I don't know anyone that has stayed in a relationship after being cheated on. I'm sure it happens of course, but I wouldn't say it is more realistic. Clearly the author wants us to like grant and believe that he won't cheat again--- hence all the stuff about wooing her, seeing a psychologist, the special flowers etc. given some circumstances like these, I do think getting back together is worth a shot but very rarely is the one who cheated THIS apologetic, reflective and kind about it so it doesn't seem to reflect a real cheating story to me. Whatever happens, if Tessa is cheated on the first time, that's Grant's fault... if Tessa gets cheated on a second time...

  13. So happy she's giving him another chance!!!!! He better not screw up again though...

  14. I love this blog.....That is all!

  15. Nice post. I like this blog but I think your giving us what we want instead. Tessa was trying to move on, readers complained after the art class that she was suppose to make it work with Grant so that's what we have here. Plus Tessa has been so stubborn and all of a sudden she's taking responsibility for working too much and but having time for Grant. That's a another thing so many complained about. I find your last couple posts very predictable.

  16. I also suspect something sketchy/bad is going to come out of the back room reorganization thing but I REALLY REALLY REALLY hope it doesn't involve Liv being a backstabber or liar or something. I like her and I like her and Tessa's friendship... I'd so much rather read about girl friends than girl fights.

    Regardless this was a great post !! Love it and totally open to whatever is going on with Grant and Tessa :)

  17. Really loving Grant & Tessa! So many of these "fake" blogs revolve around drama (and many times very unrealistic but super entertaining storylines) that'd I'd love to see this one stay more on the path of being realistic. A look into the ups & downs of a serious relationship, daily work stories, etc. etc. so I hope that Liv isn't some evil plant trying to mess things up @ G & B...

  18. Wait. Who was Tessa again??

    1. Is that a typo? Tessa is the protagonist.

  19. In reference to the mascara plug, have you heard of Younique's fiber lashes mascara? It's pretty amazing!

    I figure if people can plug their blogs (and Zahara mentioned mascara), hopefully it's ok to post this. I've been reading this blog as well LSP, K's blog, etc. for YEARS. Love them!

  20. Zahra I just wanted to tell you how much I love your story about Tessa. I honestly stopped reading Elizabeth's awhile ago, but I've stuck around for yours. I wish we could have more posts a week about this story. If only!

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