December 2, 2014

Tessa's Story

by Zahra Barnes

“Thank you so much for coming!” I leaned in and pulled Marley close. During our hug, I surveyed the scene over her shoulder.

Because of the mood lighting for our last show before the Revel Productions acquisition, Grey and Boehm was bathed in a warm golden glow. It was finally time to put the triplets on display. In the lead-up to the show, they’d told me they’d each been experimenting even more in their medium of choice to really free themselves of their resentment toward the others. I was excited for the eerie effect—they looked totally identical, but would be expressing themselves in different ways.

Lia was a painter, Mia worked with clay, and Gia blew glass. They would each make a breathtaking creation, a sort of idyllic representation of what their relationship could have been if they hadn’t had to fight for enough space just to be since their egg split after conception. Then they’d each rip, squelch, or smash their artwork to show that their bond was irrevocably screwed up. I couldn’t figure out whether the animosity was an act for the sake of their performance or true-to-life. To be honest, I could barely tell them apart, so discerning anything besides who did what was going above and beyond.

As the night progressed, the triplets would shed layer after layer of their clothing to get down to the barest bones of their emotions. There was the potential for them to join together for an embrace at the end. Since it was a live-action production, they couldn’t tell me whether it would or wouldn’t happen. “It all depends on how we receive one another throughout the night,” one of the -ias told me. Okay, then! It was apparently going to be a surprise.

“I’m so glad I could make it!” Marley said. “My boss tried to keep me late tonight. I had half a mind to tell her where she could shove it, but I just snuck out.” Marley had come a little early to hang out before the official opening of the exhibit. “Is Celine coming?”

I filled Marley in on the strained conversation Celine and I had when I found our door unlocked after speed dating. Celine had sworn up and down she’d been exhausted after a night of designing and had drunk a few too many glasses of wine, then simply forgotten to lock up. And what could I really do besides tell her it could never, ever happen again? That the new lock we’d gotten installed wouldn’t matter if we were the ones who left it open? That the whole Brian standing over me like something out of a horror movie thing was probably because of her negligence?

So, long story short, she wasn’t coming. We were dealing with some major awkwardness, and we both knew it made sense for her to skip this opening.

Marley nodded understandingly. “Yeah, we live in New York. Can’t exactly leave doors open all willy nilly. Anyway, where are the twins?” It was 3:45 p.m. and they were supposed to arrive any minute.

“Triplets. And they should be here soon to set up. They may be some of the most out-there ones yet. I think you’ll love them.” I walked her around the scene to show her where each one would be staged. We looked at Lia’s oils, rolled up in plump tubes and ready to ooze. We made a stop at Mia’s clay station, and I could almost hear the whirring that would accompany her molding the slick wetness, bringing it to life with the anger that flowed through her fingers. Gia’s glass blowing area was definitely the coolest, what with the glass pipe and small kiln we’d rented.

Then I showed Marley all the extras I’d organized, from the wacky flowers I’d spent hours custom arranging—full of spiky ferns as a nod to the tension between the triplets, but also with fiery dahlias that spoke to the electric beauty of what they were doing—and asked the bartender to fix her the night’s custom drink, a whiskey-based cocktail called Three’s Company.

This was one of the biggest gets of my entire career. Even though Liv was technically our Artist Marketing Liaison and would normally have had a major hand in securing the talent, I thought of the triplets as my own little success. Much like Gollum, I saw them as my precious project. After I’d botched getting Mary, the performance artist I’d met at the gala, to exhibit at Grey & Boehm, I’d needed a superior talent to make Marian forget all about it. I knew the triplets were it. I just knew it.

I did have Liv to thank for helping me get some major press. Writers and photographers from various arts publications were high on the RSVP list. Right as I thought of Liv, she appeared from the back office where she’d been getting ready. She shot me a smile and got to work straightening things around the room to ensure they were just-so.

Marley wandered around the gallery, taking in the charcoal drawings that adorned the walls. I ran a finger over the flap of one of the pamphlets I’d created for the show. “The Iterations of -Ia,” it sang across the top. It’s been a good run, I told myself as I looked around. I’d grown up so much in this place over the past years, from sussing out the reluctant, tender core under Marian’s iciness to working on my resolution skills so when something came up, I could confidently say “it’s handled” in my best Olivia Pope impression. Judging by how perfectly in place everything was tonight, I was ready to take on bigger things with this acquisition.

Marian strode into the office outfitted in black floor-length fur even though the temperatures didn’t quite call for it yet. More proof that ice-cold vodka was probably the only thing running through her veins. “Tessa.” She looked me up and down, clearly bemused by my getup. I’d finally invested in one of those immense, black, muppet-like vests I’d seen on the chicest women around the city. Paired with my supple leather jeggings and black heeled boots, I’d hoped to come off as the epitome of a gallery girl. Instead, Marian’s look gave me a hunch I was more in sooty, unhinged Yeti territory. “I trust everything is ready to go?” She’d been spending most of her time at the Revel offices, so I hadn’t seen much of her lately.

“Of course! Just making sure the final touches are perfect.”

Liv drifted over. “Yep! All that’s left is for the triplets to show, right?”

I nodded and glanced at the wall clock. They were fifteen minutes late, which wasn’t too worrisome. Start with the chronic tardiness that’s seemingly crucial for artists to function and add in three women who want to look their bests, and I wasn’t shocked they hadn’t arrived yet. At the same time, I figured I might as well give them a call just in case, since I needed everything to go off pretty much perfectly.

“They should have been here by now, but I’ll just double-check.” I walked over to my desk and crushed the swelling warmth within me. Why was I suddenly gripped with the feeling that everything was teetering on some tenuous precipice, close to being shoved off into a gaping, greedy maw?

Marian and Liv both eyed me as I held my ringing phone to my ear. Marian’s steely gaze tracked my movements, and Liv’s eyes darted between us, flitting back and forth before they rested in the Switzerland-neutral space separating our bodies.

One of the triplets finally picked up their business line. “Tessa, hey!”

“Hey there!” I couldn’t tell which one it was, but thankfully she saved me soon after.

“It’s Gia. What’s up?”

“I just wanted to make sure you all were on your way, since we want to give you ample time to set up.”

Silence. Then, a confused response.

“I mean, we’re figuring out some issues with the performance, but we still have some time. We’ll totally make it.”

I paused, trying to figure out the best way to tread gently while telling them to get their asses to the gallery.

Gia continued. “Seriously, don’t worry. We’ll definitely be there before midnight!” Her final words cracked through me like a whip.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You said we go on at midnight. We’ll be there and ready to rock it. If there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s work a crowd.”

I looked up to see Marian’s eyes narrow, her impeccable inner radar telling her something was amiss. I held my hand over the mouthpiece and smiled at her, my lips quivering. “They’re just running a little late. Three sisters, one bathroom. I’ll figure it out.” I felt my smile harden on my face like plaster as Marian looked at me suspiciously. She and Liv headed to separate areas of the gallery, and I stepped outside for some fresh air to keep from passing out.

“Gia, I think there’s been a miscommunication,” I whispered so they couldn’t hear me inside. “You were supposed to be here at 4:00 for a 6:00 p.m. opening. As in, a little bit more than an hour from now.” I couldn’t help hissing in frustration.

“What are you talking about? You told us on the phone yesterday you were pushing the timing back to make more of a splash. Remember? You said we’d start at midnight to really set the exhibit off with a bang. We loved the idea.”

My knees wobbled and I fought the nausea that was rapidly taking over. Very soon, people would be streaming in through Grey & Boehm’s doors to see the triplets. The talk of the art town. But the triplets would still be at their apartment, probably batting each other over the heads with curling irons and arguing about who had gotten more nutrients in the womb. This was supposed to be my night to prove how invaluable I was to Grey & Boehm, and I could feel my chance slipping through my fingers like burning hot sand that hurt to touch.

“Gia, I’m not sure what happened, but I never told you that. The time has never changed since what we originally agreed upon. I’m so sorry for the mixup, but everyone thinks you’re going on at 6:00. Midnight would be a tad late.” I choked out a strangled approximation of a laugh.

“But we talked to you yesterday!” she cried out. “We’re not ready!”

Yesterday? The day before, I’d been in and out of Grey & Boehm preparing for the show, but I hadn’t spoken with the triplets since the morning when I’d sent them a link to some exhibit buzz from Time Out New York. I could have sworn I signed off with the time we’d agreed on more than a month ago: “See you at 4:00 p.m. tomorrow!” Unless I had some sort of brain malfunction that resulted in me having phone calls and forgetting them immediately after, we hadn’t spoken.

Through the confusion clouding my comprehension, I grasped one fact so crucial it felt like I was holding it, heavy and urgent, in my hands: the triplets needed to get to Grey & Boehm, and they needed to do it now. And more than ever, it wasn’t the time for the type of excessive manners that can fumble the point of the matter.

“Gia, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, and I will absolutely make sure it gets handled later. But right now, I really need you and your sisters to get over to Grey & Boehm. All of our press information says 6:00 p.m., so that’s when people will get here. It’s way too late to issue a correction.”

Gia relayed my message to her sisters while I listened, and they were none too pleased. “Isn’t that pretty unprofessional to pull a bait and switch at the last minute?” I heard one whine in the background. “I didn’t pull a bait and switch at the last minute!” I wanted to shriek. Instead, I bit the inside of my cheek so hard I tasted blood, metallic and tangy on my tongue. The sisters talked over each other until the chatter became unintelligible.

“Listen, can we call you back? We just need to talk this through.”

I yanked out a tuft of my muppet vest in despair. “Can you please get back to me as soon as you can? Guests will start to arrive soon.”

She hung up without saying goodbye, which I thought was something people only did in movies. I took deep breaths to try to calm my panic, but my nerves only ratcheted up even more. How had this happened? The obvious answer nagged at me, but I ignored it, hoping there was some other reasoning. Still, it tugged gently, like it knew that I would return to it no matter what. And I did.

I looked through the window into Grey & Boehm. Liv stood with Marian, smiling as she gestured toward the kiln. I watched Liv’s eyes flash with a merry gleam as she excitedly explained the glass blowing process, and memories flashed through my mind. Liv, the first day we met, asking me to spill everything I knew about Marian. Liv telling me she’d bedded her old boss like it was no big deal. Liv gamely offering to organize the back room when I couldn’t. Liv smiling at me yesterday when I left the office, left her alone, and reassuring me she could handle any phone calls that came through. Time after time, Liv imploring me through her actions to trust her, to treat her as an equal, a friend.

There was no other possibility. It had to be Liv. At that moment, Gia called me back. I answered with a breathless hello.

“Tessa! Listen, we’re on our way. I don’t know who fucked up or how but we don’t want to lose out on this opening, so we’ll be there soon. Probably right before 6:00, but we’ll be there.”

Relief buffeted me about so violently, I swooned. “Thank you so much,” I said as I sank down onto a ledge. “Thank you. I can’t overstate how embarrassing this situation is, and I swear I’ll get to to the bottom of it. It’ll never happen again.” I turned over my shoulder to see Liv watching me. She lifted a hand and gave a slight wave. Her hazel eyes shone with the mischief I’d always loved, but also with a flinty hardness underneath that had never been there before. Or maybe I’d just never noticed.

I couldn’t confront Liv about her betrayal for the rest of the night. Ending up on Page Six for some mortifying cat fight would never be my bag. Still, I obsessed. While I hustled the triplets into position as a line collected outside, while I gave soundbites to journalists rabid for a quote, and even while I posed for a photo with Liv herself, I was plagued with the question: why? Why had she almost ruined this night for me? And for Grey & Boehm right before such a major move? Marian had promised that both our jobs were safe, and I’d thought we were in it together. I couldn’t figure it out.

Thankfully, the event went well even with the near miss. Apparently the mad rush to get to Grey & Boehm had evoked some extra hostility between the triplets, so their performances were all brimming with the special kind of loathing that is borne solely of sisterhood. At one point, feeling overcome by the crowd and the pressure not to “spill” a drink all over Liv, I escaped to the back room for a bit. Marley slipped in soon after me.

I told her all about the situation with Liv, and she stared at me slack-jawed and goggle-eyed. “Holy shit, Tessa. That sounds like something Blair freaking Waldorf would scheme up. Are you sure?”

“I don’t know what else it could be. We’ve gone over the logistics a thousand times. She knew the schedule, so I can’t see how it’s a mistake. I just need this night to be over so I can go home and think.”

“Well, things are winding down so you can soon. But first, I kind of got you a present.”
“A present? What? Why?”

“Because I knew you would kill it, and even with some psycho out of a Lifetime movie trying to sabotage you, you did.”

“Mar! That’s so sweet of you. Can I have it now? Is it an entire vat of alcohol I can drown myself in?”

She winced. “I wish, you need one. But it’s not. And you sort of have to move to get it.”

I hauled myself to my feet, excited for the possibility of anything being the bright spot of this terrible night. Marley took my hand then led me into the gallery space.

My eyes immediately landed on his feet, outfitted in scuffed brown boots. They traveled up his denim-clad legs, over his broad chest wrapped in a black button down that I could bet was flimsy enough to rip open on the first try and send buttons flying. Finally, my gaze landed on those eyes. One hazel and one blue. Jack smiled at me nervously while I let the shock of him roll over me.

I turned to Marley, knowing that no matter how much makeup I was wearing or how high her heels were, we looked for all the world like two giggly, infatuated 13-year-olds. “Mar. What. Is. He. Doing. Here?!”

“You said you weren’t going to email him! And I thought that was ridiculous, and one day you left your phone lying around, and I know your passcode, and…” Marley trailed off and shrugged her shoulders, her faux-virtuous expression transforming her into the picture of innocence. “I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t get in touch with him, so I did it for you. Well, as you. And invited him here.”

“I wouldn’t get in touch with him because it’s been so long! I was worried it would maybe be weird.”

“Well, he clearly didn’t think so.” She dug her fingers into my side and spun me around to get another glimpse of Jack, who was watching Lia shred her artwork with a look that was half-impressed and half-scared. “He’s here, isn’t he?” With that, he turned back to us and grinned. I had to admit his mere presence made all the stress leech from my body like I’d just finished up an hour-long massage. I told my legs to move and walked over to him, dragging Marley along.

“Jack, hi again.”

“Hi, yourself! So, this is Grey & Boehm. Really cool. Thanks for inviting me.”

“Um, thanks for coming. This is my friend Marley. You kind of met her at Wilfie and Nell.”

He extended a hand and a warm smile that I sank into like it was a memory foam mattress. “Nice to see you again,” he said.

“You, too.” She beamed and dug a not-at-all-subtle elbow into my ribs.

“So, Tessa.” He turned his attention back to me and my insides melted into the kind of mishmash that leads to lustful gazes and lots of stammering. “In your email you said this would be over at around 9:00, which is in a few minutes. When it’s done, could I take you out for a drink?”

I hesitated. My brain was in a million places at once, and after the crazy night so far, this felt almost like a dream.

“I’d ask for another chance to spill beer on your shirt, but the one you’re wearing looks much too good for that. Just let me treat you to a drink instead?” Then, like something out of a goddamn romantic comedy, he winked at me.

Even with all my prior protestations of it being too soon after my breakup or too weird to be right, I had to force myself to answer normally instead of screaming yes, defiling him right there on the floor, or doing both. At the same time.

“Sure,” I finally said after a deep breath. “I would love to.”


  1. I swear that I had a panic attack just reading the first part of this. Awesome post, Zahra.

    1. Chris - @nylonlover69 on Twitter/IGDecember 2, 2014 at 3:08 PM

      omg, I know, right?

      When it hit Tessa that it had to have been Liv that changed the time...

  2. Great post! I knew Liv would end up being a traitor!

  3. Liv is so shady!! Love this.

  4. ummm hello it is Celine~

    1. That is what I thought also. Celine. This should be interesting.......

    2. Yes! It has to be Celine! She's trying to sabotage her life since she's so unhappy with hers

    3. Thought so too!! Glad I'm not the only one!

  5. Really getting into this story line!! I actually had a bad feeling about Liv from day 1 (all those weird little things were a red flag) I don't think it's Celine although she seems to have some weird stuff going on too, can't wait for next Tuesday! :)

  6. DAMN! She better tell Live off when she gets the chance and talk to Marian. That's just way too cheap to do to someone!

  7. Hmmm...I hope it isn't Liv because if it is, sorry to say, this story has become way too predictable. As soon as Tessa started gushing to herself about this night being so important to her and how Liv had helped her, I knew she had likely sabotaged her as well. Hopefully there is a twist of some sort or I'm afraid this story has run its course for me. Just my opinion though.

  8. I am so digging Jack. He is a hottie and hopefully Tessa and Jack work out.

  9. It was totally Celine! At least I really hope so...not all co-workers are backstabbers...

  10. You're doing a fantastic job with this storyline! Always keeping me wanting more, can't wait for next week!

  11. Your lawyer and your Dad seems illegal!

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