October 14, 2014

Tessa's Story

by Zahra Barnes

“Where are we going, again?”

Marley blotted her lipstick and appraised the final result in the mirror. “West Village. Somewhere cool.” She was sitting in front of her dresser getting ready for our first night out in a while.

“So, basically, you don’t know yet?”

She stopped primping and made eye contact with me in the mirror. “You know it’s all about the vibes, Tessa. We’ll just walk by certain places and go wherever is giving off some good energy.” I wished Bob Marley could have heard her then; she’d probably have made her namesake proud. Marley released her hair from its signature topknot and it tumbled down her back in shiny waves. I always told her to wear it down more often, but she’d cut me off, saying it was unsanitary since she was usually in the kitchen. On a night like this though, when she was determined to “man-snatch,” as she called it, she knew exactly how powerful her hair could be.

I flopped back onto her bed, trying to ward off exhaustion. I’d been at Grey & Boehm all day after an already hectic week. My idea of heaven at that point was spending an uninterrupted 24 hours in bed with Grant, alternating lazy sex with eating and napping to refuel our energy. But I’d refused to bail on Marley to do that, not wanting to be one of the friends who suddenly became completely unreliable when she got a boyfriend.

So, here I was, ready to wing woman her latest man-snatching adventure. When she’d told me the purpose of this outing I’d asked why she even needed it, given her never-ending roster of Tinder men. She’d actually licked her lips and explained Tinder was taking away the “thrill of the chase.” In that moment, she’d reminded me of a lion I’d seen take down a massive crocodile in a YouTube video. In a word: terrifying.

She stood and poked me. “Are you ready?”

I hauled myself up and she eyed me critically. “Obviously not," she said. "What are you even wearing?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” I shot back. I’d gone to her place in the loose white shift I’d worn to Grey & Boehm under a trench coat, given the unpredictable weather. It wasn’t man-snatching attire, per se, but in my state of fatigued delusion, I thought the wrinkles could give off a not-trying-too-hard vibe. Plus, I wasn’t too concerned with man-snatching when I had my own well-muscled man with a perfect penis waiting for me to get home.

Marley wasn’t having it, though. She could also basically read my mind.

“Yeah yeah, I know, you have Grant. But that doesn’t mean you have to tell the entire world you’ve given up! Plus, we’re going out together. How you look reflects on me. Who knows what guys would think.”

I laughed, unable to be offended by her particular brand of honesty. “Okay, Mar. What do you suggest?”

She got a gleam in her eye and went to work.

Twenty minutes later, my hair was doing a pretty good, if much wilder, interpretation of Marley’s. She’d turned my eyelids into a palette of inky black and ash gray, layered on intense mascara, and even contoured my cheekbones. At first, I’d protested. “Mar, absolutely not. That’s so over the top. In case you’ve forgotten, my last name isn’t ‘Kardashian!’”

She rolled her eyes. “Um, Tessa, have you realized how many millions of dollars those women have made because of how pretty they are? Theirs is the empire that contouring built.”

I acquiesced. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I instantly wanted to hire her to paint my face with shadows and highlights every day. Now I understood why celebrities didn’t look like actual humans.

“Okay, wow. You’re a magician, I admit it. Can we leave now?”

She shook her head. “Uh-uh, sister. That sack has got to go.” She gestured to my dress. I should have known.

After a romantic comedy-esque montage that involved me trying on half the contents of Marley’s wardrobe, we set out into the breezy night. My trench hid the final outfit we’d settled on, an off-the-shoulder black dress with tights and booties. The dress cinched at my waist and flared out into a skater skirt that skimmed my thighs, and I told myself I needed to raid Marley’s closet more often. Wearing my best friend’s clothes felt like slipping into her more confident skin. Marley was sporting a filmy gold top with jeans, her brightness making me seem mysterious by comparison. I couldn’t wait to show up at Grant’s after. He always loved me in black.

“Here! This is it! I feel it!” Marley crowed in the cab at a random intersection. I felt a pang at suddenly having to cut off the fascinating conversation I’d been having with our cab driver, who had been a pediatric surgeon in Morocco. But Marley’s excitement was infectious, and as we tripped out into the October breeze my stomach swooped at the thought of another unexpected night in my favorite city. You never knew what New York had in store.

We traipsed down several blocks, scoping out the scene. We were about to pass Wilfie and Nell, an Irish bar that was always packed with pretty young things making the most of it, when Marley reacted like a woman possessed. She threw her arm in front of me the way a driving parent does to a teenaged passenger when suddenly braking too hard. She turned and looked at me with wild eyes. “This is it,” she whispered. “I feel it in my bones.” I loved that so much about her, that she was slightly superstitious about her gut instincts. She truly believed they would guide her like internal tuning forks made of a slippery, precious, knowing material that always steered her well.

We joined the line but the doorman made eye contact with Marley and jerked his head. Of course. This kind of thing always happened to her, so she moved obliviously through life thinking the special treatment she got was normal. I avoided the glares of those in line and skirted in behind her.

My senses were flooded with light and sound. We turned to each other, did that speechless best friend mind-meld thing, and agreed on a plan of action. She headed to the bar and I went to the coat rack with her jacket, shrugging my trench off along the way. I fought through the crowd to join her at the bar, where she had a beer waiting for me.

It’s a serious clusterfuck in here,” she said happily. She held her beer up and knocked the chilled bottle against mine. “Cheers to me getting some tonight.”

I nodded. “Of course. I hope you wake up sufficiently sore tomorrow.”

Marley bobbed her head seriously like, “yep, you got it,” and took a sip. She craned her neck, looking around for anyone that caught her eye.

We spent the next hour at the bar, listening to the lilt of the authentic Irish bartender’s accent and chatting with the guys who approached. Finally, I saw some movement in the back. A couple was pulling on their outerwear, getting ready to leave. I was making a beeline to claim their table when the way they looked at each other stopped me, which was rare. Usually when a table became free at a crowded establishment, I had a one-track mind. But the way the woman curled her forehead into the man’s neck, and how his lips brushed her ear, murmuring what I knew were the most beautiful words she had ever heard…I rocked back on my heels slightly, stunned by the love that radiated off them. They moved towards the door and shook me out of my trance. I put my bag on the seat for Marley, who was still talking to the bartender, and settled into the opposite booth.

The place was filled with the type of grown-up frat boys that were the older versions of guys I couldn’t get enough of in college. I assessed them like a mathematician, realizing they technically had all the components that should add up to someone I’d want to pounce on. Still, something in the equation was off. I felt no pull towards them and couldn’t stop thinking of that couple whose spot I had just taken. I imagined Grant sitting at home, waiting for me, and my stomach jumped. Did we look like that when we were together? Could we possibly give off that unmistakable feeling that we were cocooned in our own little world, nestled firmly in the heart of only the other?

Marley caught my attention when she plopped down across from me. It only took a few more swallows of my beer before two guys strode over to our table. “Hey, ladies,” the shorter one said. I smiled and said hi but leaned back, letting Marley take center stage. I watched her eyes drink in the taller, quieter guy, and knew she’d be homing in on him. Unless, of course, she found someone she liked more.

“We just couldn’t believe that you two were here alone,” said the shorter one. “It’s impossible.”

“How kind of you to decide to rectify that injustice.” Marley dazzled them with a smile and I wanted to stifle a laugh at how they lapped it up. Sometimes men were so easy. “Care to join us?”

The guys squeezed in next to us and immediately launched into their clearly practiced spiel. The shorter one, Todd, tried to convince us he had been Alfalfa in Little Rascals while the taller guy, Nick, threw in a few choice comments. I played along, wondering all the while, who seriously falls for this? But Marley was cozied up with Nick and clearly hitting it off with him. I did my best to be a good wing woman, knowing Mar would have done the same for me. I drew the line at letting Todd buy my next drink, though. “I don’t know if Grant would love that!” I smiled. Todd hadn't let up on his leering even though I’d dropped Grant’s name three times. I needed the space to breathe as much as I needed the next beer.

I made my way to the bar and leaned against the wood, hoping to catch the bartender’s eye. I asked for another Guinness, but realized it would be some time before I got it. A boisterous, red-faced guy with a surprisingly elaborate order snapped his fingers at the bartender, commanding his attention. I was watching his lips wrap themselves around the words “two Old Fashioneds, extra strong” when I felt the telltale shock of a cold drink soaking my hair and half my back. I stifled a shriek and whipped around, furious that someone old enough to be in a bar couldn’t manage to keep a solid grip on their drink.

I found myself looking at a broad chest. Even more annoyed, I jerked my head back so I could see who the culprit was. I was suddenly staring into a pair of eyes, one hazel and the other blue. My body reacted with goose bumps before my mind caught up, but my eyes did their best to help out, searching the face as quickly as possible. It was him, without a doubt. I was standing face-to-face with the nude model from the art class I’d been to with Liv. He of the twitching member.

“I’m so sorry,” he apologized. He glared at the gesticulating man next to him, who was drunkenly recounting some Northwestern Wildcats football play from earlier that day. “This is why I hate bars like this.”

I just stared at him, stunned. Did he really not recognize me? I’ve always had a knack for faces, so much so that I’ve actually had to pretend I don’t remember people so I don’t freak them out. It seemed like this would be one of those times.

“Um, it’s fine. Just…you should be more careful. I mean, you have curls. You know how hard it is to wrangle them into submission.” His tight golden-brown waves were just as perfect as last time.

He grinned. “Yours looked way better than mine, and I ruined them. My fault.” He reached over to the bar and grabbed some napkins, patting at my hair as best he could without being incredibly awkward. I laughed and waved him off, wringing my hair out instead. The dress couldn’t really be helped.

“Can I buy you a drink to make it up to you?”

“Oh, not necessary.” I knew a drink could be innocent, especially when it was warranted after an outfit-ruining incident. But I just never felt right accepting another guy’s drink when I was dating someone. It carried too many connotations. “But I may send you my dry cleaning bill.”

He grinned down at me, and I felt like my stomach was dropping out of my ass. The harried bartender plonked my beer in front of me, and that was my cue. “Well, I should get back to my friend.”

“Wait!” He grabbed my arm, his eyes piercing mine. “Are we really going to pretend this is the first time we’ve met?”

I felt a rush of relief that I wasn’t that forgettable and a simultaneous warmth at the thought that someone so gorgeous remembered me. “I thought you didn’t recognize me!”

“Of course I do. I mean, not to be creepy, but I noticed you pretty much the second I walked into The Grid for that art class. I can’t believe I ran into you. I wanted to talk to you that night, but, um, I felt…a little shy, I guess.”

I followed his lead. We obviously weren’t going to mention the reason he’d been too embarrassed to approach me.

“I figured it was some sort of no-fraternizing policy. You know, the nude models must never have contact with class-goers, that kind of thing. Otherwise, I’d have been all over my group’s first model!”

He laughed. “Bess, the grandma-looking one? She’s actually really sweet. But no, there’s no policy like that. Lucky me.” He looked down at me and all I could think of was how the hell to mention Grant. I didn’t want to be that girl who blurted out that she had a boyfriend at a completely random moment. No matter how well-intentioned, that could always seem presumptuous. But the expression in his eyes was pretty clear.

“So!” He broke the spell before I could figure out what to say. “What do you do in the city besides draw naked people in your spare time?”

“I think the better question is what do you do in the city besides pose naked in your spare time?”

He—his name was Jack, I soon discovered— told me that he was a grad student at NYU studying 20th Century American history. He was obsessed with his club basketball team, and apparently a master poker player. He found out about the nude modeling opportunity via a listserv and couldn’t pass up the chance to make some extra cash. In return, I told him all about Grey & Boehm, life with Celine, and my mixology course. Then I figured out the perfect way, or so I thought, to mention Grant.

“You know, I actually told my boyfriend he should come to the next drawing session with me. I mean, it was really so much fun, and I think he’d enjoy something like that, because, well, I don’t know! Who doesn’t like naked people?” I listened to myself in horror. I couldn’t stop rambling. I tried to force the image of Jack’s rippling muscles out of my brain and get a grip.

A look of resigned understanding washed over his face. “Grant, huh?”

I smiled ruefully. “Yeah. He’s pretty great.”

He studied me. “He must be.”

I broke his gaze when I felt a jab between my shoulder blades. “Tessa, what’s taking you so long? Todd’s basically ready to propose to you and he keeps interrupting me to ask where you are, like I’m a psychic.” Marley peeked over my shoulder at Jack. Her fingers returned to my back, this time giving me a “who in sweet Jesus’ name is that?!” pinch. “Well, hello,” she purred.

Jack gave her the kind of smile that made it obvious women turned into animals around him pretty frequently. “How’s it going?”

“Totally fine. I just wanted to make sure Tessa wasn’t off in a corner somewhere reading a book when she should be drinking with me. But she’s obviously in good hands. Have fun!” She disappeared into the crowd.

A flush heated my cheeks. Did she have to be so obvious? I knew she was giddy about me talking to someone hot, even though she’d technically accepted that Grant and I were working on things. She loved feeling like she was part of a duo of women on the prowl, even if it was just for a night and I couldn’t actually do anything worth talking about.

“So, I should really get back there and keep an eye on her,” I said.

“You sure?”

I took in his face, which was almost too handsome to be real. The mismatched eyes, the strong jaw, the smattering of faint freckles along the bridge of his nose. My eyes drifted down to his mouth. His bottom lip jutted out in a faux pout, looking so lush I felt almost pornographic staring at it. I snapped my eyes back up to his. “Yes. Totally sure. But it was nice running into you! Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“I hope so.”

I returned to our table. Todd was long-gone, trying his act out on some poor unsuspecting woman he’d backed into a corner. Marley and Nick were about to devour each other in the booth. She looked up at me. “Oh, hey there, ya minx! Who was that absolute dreamboat of a man you were talking to?”

“You won’t believe it. Remember that nude model I told you about?”

Her jaw dropped. “You saw that man naked?! Can you send that memory to me somehow, please?” She took in Nick’s put-out face. “Sorry. You’d get it if you saw him.”

“I know! Anyway, I think it’s time for me to call it a night. Mar, are you fine getting home?”

“I’m more than fine.” She grinned at me wickedly. She’d nursed her beer all night, so I trusted her judgment. I also knew she’d text me all of Nick’s information on his driver’s license. She refused to go home with a stranger if he wouldn’t let her do that, and I thought it was a smart move. We’d watched too many episodes of Investigation Discovery to play around with that stuff.

Grant had lent me his key so I could come in as late as I wanted without waking him. After a cold slice of sausage pizza, I slid into bed, already feeling suffocated thanks to his wonky heating system. I shoved the blankets off my naked body and rolled away from Grant, unable to take the heat coming off him in waves I could practically touch. I heard my phone buzz and leaned over to check it. Instead of the text I expected from Marley with all the stats about that night’s conquest, my Grey & Boehm email account lit up with a new message.


I don’t want to be too forward, but I also think it’s pretty nuts that we ran into each other after that class. I figured I could find your Grey & Boehm email. Glad I did.

I know you have a boyfriend, and I respect that. But you should get in touch sometime. Technically, I still owe you that drink.


I tucked my phone away, knowing I would tell Grant about this tomorrow, and that we’d laugh about the coincidence of me running into this guy in a city of 8 million people. Sure, it was impossible not to appreciate the draw of something new and shiny. But I knew nothing could compare to the years I’d spent with Grant, even though we’d had our rough moments.

It was funny, though. As I dozed off, I couldn’t get Jack’s striking eyes out of my head. I shivered, overcome with a chill, and curled myself into Grant’s back to soak up his warmth.


  1. Oops! I guess there's something out there calling out to her that she wishes wasn't...I wonder what she'll choose.

    This was funn! "In that moment, she’d reminded me of a lion I’d seen take down a massive crocodile in a YouTube video. In a word: terrifying."

  2. Love your posts each week, wish I didn't have to wait to read the next one, I'm hooked!

    1. Same here! Tessa, your writing is amazing and so authentic.

    2. Her name is Zahra. The character's name is Tessa.

  3. I am sooooo Team Jack!

  4. Delete that message!

  5. This is probably not a popular opinion but I am not here for Grant. Something is just off. And want to see what's up with the nude model lol

  6. I really thought Grant seemed great for Tessa -- until she broke up with him because of the whole cheating thing. Honestly, if they were serious enough to move in together, they should have been able to work their relationship out. Grant seemed honest and true in his apology -- but the fact that it was DONE for Tessa at that point made me think that Grant wasn't right for her. So, long story short ... Team Jack!

  7. Sooooo she never mentioned Grant's name to Jack......she just said "my boyfriend", yet he replied "Grant huh?"........I wonder if this means something or it was an honest mistake. ........

    1. I didn't catch that!! Maybe an honest mistake since she wrote that she was talking to Todd and mentioned grants name so much

  8. I really hope she doesn't cheat on Grant, two wrongs don't make a right lol I seem to be solo on my Team Grant!


    1. Team Grant!!!!! :) def

    2. You are not solo--I agree Team Grant. Even in stable relationships, there can be chemical ambivalence, but Tessa seems in control. Still, it is an ego charge for her, and that is OK. She behaved as she should have--no deception, but a nice confidence boost.

  9. I'm over Grant. It's just not worth the effort trying to save something when one person already let it go... too tough to let go of that resentment.

  10. Frankly it is a bit stalker-ish of Jack to track her down when she made a specific point of telling him about Grant and even saying that Grant was "pretty great", so is ANYTHING seems off, it's Jack. Way too pushy, I think.

    1. I thought it was cute! Lol

    2. I agree about it being pushy, he knows she's taken it is kind of a Jerk move

  11. Although I like Grant, it's going to be very interesting with Jack.

    Can't wait for more!

  12. Chris - @nylonlover69 on TwitterOctober 15, 2014 at 2:22 PM

    Wait, so after a beer shower in the bar, you didn't have to take a real one at Grant's and then jump his bones? I thought that would be the reason for going to his place. I know, I know... details... lol

    And someone mentioned the lion quote about Marley and I was just about to mention another when I wondered if she really meant the lion took down a crocodile or maybe a zebra instead. But I really liked “Of course. I hope you wake up sufficiently sore tomorrow.”

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